Thursday, April 15, 2010

lunch


One of my personal faves at the Columbus Museum of Art is George Tooker's Lunch, 1964, egg tempera on gesso panel.  Despite the lovely soft tones and overall quietness of the painting, it is striking, and for me, anyway, packs quite a punch. Lunch is an indirect reference to the contentious lunch counter sit-ins occurring across America in the 1960s.  Tooker’s figures all bear an uncanny resemblance to each other, silently eating their lunches, completely drained of the actual passions surrounding the issue.  Notice the lone African-American pictured in the center. You can feel the warmth in the glow of the lunchroom, and even though there is no connection between the diners, you can sense their collective unity.

George Tooker was born in Brooklyn. After graduating from Harvard in 1942, he joined the Art Students League, where he studied with Reginald Marsh, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and Paul Cadmus. Heavily influenced by Cadmus, Tooker became part of the Magic Realist circle of artists. At age thirty-one, Tooker’s first one-man show was held at the Edwin Hewitt Gallery in New York. His shows and exhibitions at major museums and galleries continued through the 1950s and 1960s. From 1955 to 1958, Tooker taught painting at the Art Students League, and in 1974 the San Francisco Palace of the Legion of Honor organized a retrospective of his work. He currently lives in Vermont.


To paint the figure as deliberately
and meditatively as does Tooker, is,
in a sense, to touch, caress, and care for it.

M. Melissa Wolfe
George Tooker: A Biography



83 comments:

  1. How Strange.That Could Be A Mirror in the Middle Of The Painting......

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  2. I think Tony is right! It does look like a mirror in the middle. A great optical illusion.

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  3. freaky lighting, kind of like harsh flourescents...and the people seem a little plastic. I would like to see more of his work.

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  4. Thank you for bringing my attention to this terrific painting and artist. I really enjoyed your commentary, as well!

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  5. willow that is a phenomenal painting and the story behind it...great tt post.

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  6. Incredible! I'll have to do some more research now.

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  7. hello willow - tooker is new to me but reminds me so very much of the work of contemporary british artist p.j. crook whose work you can find at: http://www.pjcrook.com/pjcrook/Home_page.html
    steven

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  8. I am enjoying learning new things in your posts. I love art. Have been in many wonderful art museums and galleries around the globe. I will have to look at this a few more times.

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  9. Thanks for the link, Steven, I'll check out Crook's site!

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  10. I have always liked Tooker's work and had no idea he was still alive and living in Vt. Will have to look up where.

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  11. Interesting post and I agree that it packs a puncy, but I get a different "feeling" from the painting. Though crowded together and unified in being in the same position, posture and motions, they seem very alienated from each other and from their surroundings. Reminds me of some of Edward Hopper's works, somewhere between hyper-realism and magic realism.

    Do you really sense warmth in that glow? There is something disturbing about the light. No shadows and it strikes me as leaving everything looking and feeling lifeless. Of course it is hard to judge these things from a digital image on a computer screen. I would like to see it in person.

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  12. Lorenzo, yes, to me there is a glow in the light. I suppose it's because I've seen it in person, several times. I can almost feel the steamy winter heat from the radiators. It's actually very soft and warm in person. Tooker is famous for his Magic Realism style.

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  13. You know, that's the beauty of any artform, the ability to look at a piece from various points of view. Interesting, huh?

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  14. Interesting how you can see the heads of the diners - but very little of their actual lunch.

    I definitely agree that the focus of this painting was the diners and not the food...

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  15. Thanks willow, I don't know Tooker's work at all but am now inclined to find out more.

    I am more minded to Lorenzo's "feeling" about the painting, and would also like to see it for real. I wonder if he has anything hanging in the UK? I shall research...

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  16. I love the magic glow. Almost like the room is filled with light and smoke, though there is not one cigarette in sight.

    I do agree with one poster who said the subjects seem alienated. It gives me a sad feeling, except for the light, which makes me think that there is happiness for these diners beyond the four walls.

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  17. That is an amazing painting, but it makes me sad for some reason. I keep thinking of those alien invasion movies where everyone's emotions are taken away. Loved the info about the author!

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  18. About the artist, I meant to say...

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  19. Hello Willow,

    I remember studying Tooker when I was a little kid. Rather cold, disturbing works/Social Realism. Today the sandwiches and cups of that picture would be replaced with cell phones. They're both pretty sad pictures of our world.

    Best,

    David
    http://www.globalaroundtown.blogspot.com

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  20. Steven, I looked at Crook's site, and I see a little similarity to Tooker's work. This particular piece, "Lunch", reminds me of the wonderful Magic Realism of Chris Van Allsburg.

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  21. Tooker;s 'glow' has always pulled me in. -J

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  22. They are all together, yet each so seperate while dining at the lunch counter.

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  23. it seems to me that there are 2 mirrors in the room.
    one that you are facing,
    and one that is behind us ( out of the pic)behind us and reflecting in the mirror in front of us - in the work itself.

    wild.
    and that is some self portrait.

    xx

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  24. I think they look so hungry and sad.

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  25. Wonderful painting. Love it! I feel like I saw a split-second movie!

    Wow, I have to catch up on this guy. Never saw this in my life. Call myself an art student!

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  26. In the middle ages, writers used mirrors or reflecting pools in tales as ways to contain some truth. I see that here in this painting, too. A collective detachment, a dichotomy of autonomy, a bit o' Jung.

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  27. I really enjoyed this painting and the information surrounding it. Thanks, Willow - very nicely done.

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  28. I've seen this painting before but it evoked totally different feelings in me.

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  29. I've always found this painting slightly disturbing. A bland works-canteen or prison even. Maybe it's the lack of human contact; eating should always be a social occasion.

    Bisou, Cro.

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  30. ...Lovely painting and comments...your comments really made me look at this painting more closely...it does make me think of Robert Frank's pictures of diners in his photo Drugstore, Detroit from the Americans book...vacant non communicating eaters...

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  31. Dear Willow, What interesting subject matter for a painting which does, as you remark, evoke a certain moment in time, thus taking on an aspect of history. As striking, for me, is the self portrait.

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  32. Tooker's work is intriguing. I love exploring art and discovering artists {although no artist myself, except maybe in a bumbling way with words}.

    Lovely post, Willow.

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  33. Thanks for introducing this artist and his work. I love Tooker's self portrait,those passionate intense blue eyes. The eyes of an artist- one who looks life square in the face.

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  34. What an unusual style - I've never heard of him. I guess like lots of things/people I've never heard of now I will start seeing his name everywhere

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  35. the painting is painfully silent... as if they are all in grave despair...

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  36. You description of the painting and the emotions that unfold upon scrutinizing it more carefully are spot on. Thank you for this reminder of what art can visualize and what human spirit can accomplish if we band to together for the common good!

    Happy Thursday! :-)

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  37. I have never heard of this artist and I like his work alot. Your descrip of the painting is excellent and it does bring back that time, even tho' I was very very young!

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  38. How nice that we need the lone black man pointed out to us in the painting. His presence today being totally unremarkable.

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  39. The theme of 'lunch' kind of reminds me of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Narcissistic people have no feelings for others.

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  40. i've often felt there is something quite haunting about many of tooker's work.

    thanks for the head's up on tooker's piece at the columbus museum of art....need to make it to that museum since it's in the state capital I expect it's capital!

    happy theme thursday!

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  41. Willow,

    That is a wonderful post. Gosh next thing you will become a Docent..No kidding, that was Great.


    yvonne

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  42. I just love that 'Lunch'!

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  43. It's a fascinating work, because there's a certain sterility to it. It's devoid of any interaction, and I think because there's no change at all in the values, there's a certain intentional "blandness" to it that communicates his meaning. The lighting reminds me of doctors' offices.

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  44. ps
    It reminds me of the feeling of cubicles in a work setting, where people are all "in it together," but they all wish they weren't!

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  45. Brush with Color, yes, excellent point!

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  46. George Tooker's egg tempra (love that medium) "Lunch" 1964 is amazing. The continuous use of the monotone. This theme repeats in the colouration which mostly browns and grays in various values and some encouraging tints of white which promotes a surreal feel to the Magic Realism of this piece. A smoky industrial Leger feel to the work as well as in the figure stylization common in the 40's. The monotone theme continues with the unindividualized "suits" looking strikingly similar save a few unremarkable differences. The light source effect is masterful trul amazing! The cold steel architectural column could symbolize "The Machine" versus "Man" prototypical subject matter in the 40's An ode to the gritty industrialization of the Modern Age. The triade construction in the "golden triangle" arrangement in the composition is captured by the three men eating white bread sandwiches. Also references The Last Supper of DaVinci. The over-all effect is one of subdued energy found in the worker's huddled form or sitting postures as well as the lack of detail in faces and colours. Very astute subject matter of Man vs Machine similiar to Diego Rivera's work and the colour of cooked meat. Earthy yet resigned to slave a day. Notion of industrialization as a fixed perimeter of consciousness. Aesthetic and contraversial; benchmarks of tres beaux arts!

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  47. Willow,
    Very good post and reflective.

    pink

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  48. I once worked with a gentleman named Steve Tooker, who kind of looked like George's self portrait. Funny. Obviously not his son, still interesting. I'm with Lorenzo, feels more cold to me. Like it very much though.

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  49. Your choice for TT was awesome, as usual. Happy TT

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  50. What an interesting painting; I would love to be able to see it in person.

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  51. The earth tones he used really soften and give this warmth.

    Interesting contemp. work, and poignant subject matter that inspired it.

    Happy TT:)..

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  52. What amazes me about this painting is the way the light is captured. It is magnificent!

    (I was hoping for a Willow classic recipe.)

    Kat

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  53. Sorry about that, Kat. (a rhyme) I did post a recipe this week, though, just scroll down a bit!

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  54. Chicco, yes, you're so right. I didn't notice the triangle of white bread, a la DaVinci. I did think the same about the industrial steel column. Super thoughts, as usual, my friend!

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  55. Yvonne, guiding visitors through a museum and talking about art would be one of my dream jobs.

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  56. This is excellent AND intriguing. I have not seen this painting. It is muted and quiet...now, HOW is it that Tooker managed to communicate QUIET in this painting? The light and muted colors? Fascinating.

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  57. I didn't know anything about George Tooker, and thanks for the great introduction - as well as your insight into the painting. In rural Idaho, thrift stores, chainsaw art places, roadside rock stores are substitutes for museums that I'm generally satisfied with. (Even the grocery store - a few days ago, a hand-printed sign for "semi-boneless lamb"...) But reading your post I felt such a longing to go to a traditional museum...I envy you!

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  58. I don't know why when I see him or his work or his name I think of George Tucker not George Tooker. It is like getting a song stuck in your head and all songs begin to sound the same to me. To answer your comment.

    I hope you don't mind this kind of cut and paste. I would hate to type this over twenty times.

    The CT scan is over now. It went well. I was out of there by 11:30 AM and we stopped at the Chinese restaurant that Patty loves, for lunch. I had beef fried rice and she had sweet and sour soup. And tea. It was delicious and was the first time we have been out to eat in a while. I should learn the results from my family doctor. And the results will be and "either or" kind of situation. The either find something or they don't.

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  59. I've always loved that Tooker self-portrait.

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  60. I'm struck by the white bread sandwiches...don't they know wheat bread is better for you?

    Interesting piece...thanks for the background information. That always adds an extra dimension of life to art.

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  61. Steviewren, speaking of white bread sandwiches, I was telling Jill today that I sometimes get a hankering for a perfect bologna sandwich with mayo on fluffy white Wonder bread. Since that's what we baby boomers were raised on.

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  62. It is beautiful and so intimate even though everyone is entrenched in their own thoughts. I think that is why I have always loved diners.

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  63. Such a powerful image. Thanks for this intro to Tooker and his work. Wow.

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  64. Beautiful art - even his self-portrait has that softness.

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  65. I wish I could see this painting in person...It is amazing --his style reminds me of Edward Hopper --wonderful post!

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  66. Willow special as ever. I love the tulip photo and the in depth review of Tooker's works. I'll be on the look out for them when I go into a museums. Very interesting style he has.

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  67. Thank you for your nice comment on my blog.

    Your blog is wonderfully inspiring, as usual, and makes me soo happy.... this post is just incredible!!

    Agneta & Sweden

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  68. Wonderful picture. The body shapes remind me of Seurat a little.

    As far as word shapes are concerned and you problem with the fonts on Chrome, I am not sure what to suggest. Perhaps I have got used to it or perhaps it depends on what version of Windows you are using. Sorry.

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  69. Thank you for the introduction to Tooker, as I am not familiar with his work. His figures are huddled and to me suggest secrecy and keeping to one self.

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  70. Hello Willow,

    Rather like Lorenzo, I see only the disconnection of the diners. They seem awkward and embarrassed by each other's presence, which can certainly be a reality in close-packed places. Just eat up quickly and go. Definitely different to the life and personality in his self-portrait.

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  71. I opened your page, and Tooker's self-portrait caught my eye. For a moment I though he held a small pocket camera in his hand. ;-)

    The sun's back here, btw!

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  72. Merisi, that's so funny! If Tooker's self portrait was done today, he would most likely have a small digital camera in his hand, peering at himself in the mirror!

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  73. I'm so very thankful for my life of solitude, that I never have to eat in a lunchroom among the sorrowful mannequins.

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  74. Thank you for introducing me to this artist. Such an intriguing tone to this painting. I have always found the sight of people eating extremely poignant, sometimes almost unbearable to watch--the vulnerability one sees at times. Perhaps Tooker shares the same feeling?

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  75. I find that I agree with Lorenzo's comment. The people all seem to me to be very alienated from each other. Some are actually turned away from the others, as if they were pulling in on themselves. My very first thought when I saw it was Orwell's 1884.

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  76. PattiKen, interesting. It does have a bit of a totalitarian "Big Brother is watching you" kinda feel, doesn't it?

    (oops, a little typo...I think you meant Orwell's 1984)

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  77. what an interesting picture. no one talking or interacting with each other. i'm not a fan of eating alone - it always makes me feel so lonely

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  78. I really like that, thank you for sharing!

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  79. That really is a fascinating image--thanks for sharing it!

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  80. Yeah, that's what I meant. Fat finger syndrome, don't you know.

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Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)