George Tooker

By chance, just after I posted on magic realism (in literature and art), there came the news of George Tooker’s death (“George Tooker, Painter Capturing Modern Anxieties, Dies at 90” on-line on the 29th, “George Tooker Dies at 90; Painter of Modern Anxiety” in my print copy on the 30th; story by William Grimes). Tooker’s uncanny, often disturbing, paintings have been labeled as magic realist (and social realist), though he didn’t like the label himself. Grimes on definitions:

“Symbolism can be limiting and dangerous, but I don’t care for art without it, Mr. Tooker told the cultural critic Selden Rodman in 1957.

… At the same time, he fended off attempts to define him as a surrealist or magic realist. “I am after reality — painting impressed on the mind so hard that it recurs as a dream,” he said, “but I am not after dreams as such, or fantasy.”

A famous canvas, “The Subway”, from 1950:

Tooker was influenced by Paul Cadmus (see my previous posting) and by social realist artist Reginald Marsh, though his style was recognizably his own. From Grimes’s obit:

Mr. Cadmus’s exuberant use of homosexual themes in his work also encouraged Mr. Tooker to address that aspect of his identity in paintings like the terrifying, Brueghel-esque “Children and Spastics” (1946), in which a group of leering sadists torment three frail, effeminate men:

Here’s a Tunnel of Love painting by Marsh to compare with Cadmus and Tooker:

(Marsh’s women tend to be bosomy, with thick, muscular legs.)

Marsh gained a wide audience (including me at the age of 10 or so) through his illustrations for John Dos Passos’s trilogy U.S.A. (The 42nd Parallel, 1919, The Big Money), though these illustrations are sadly missing from the Library of America edition of the trilogy.


11 Responses to “George Tooker”

  1. partners « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Arnold Zwicky's Blog A blog mostly about language « George Tooker […]

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Christopher Walker on Facebook:

    Oh, that makes me sad. I had not heard that, yet. George Tooker’s world took hold of me in 1968 when Ralph Ginzburg published reproductions of some of his work. I have only to step out of my office and survey the adjacent cubicle farm, to re-enter it.

  3. Kathryn B Says:


  4. James Vickrey « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] long after the death of magic realist painter George Tooker comes the death of another major painter in this school. From the NYT yesterday, by William Grimes: […]

  5. Two deaths in the arts « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] in literature and in Edward Hopper, Paul Cadmus, and Jack Frankfurter, here; in George Tooker, here; and in Robert Vickrey, […]

  6. Mike Zamojski Says:

    Does anyone know if there is a collection of his work? I do some work with the Ogunquit Art Museum, in Maine, and would love to see his work shown.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Promising-looking on-line reference here.

      • Mike Zamojski Says:

        Thanks …I want to approach the Ogunquit Museum’s director with some information …this will help. I met George, who was a friend of a friend of ours in Reading, VT. I spoke with him at a dinner there and then later found his hardcover book, which was really beautiful.

        Thanks again for your help!

  7. Comic machines « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] books), Saul Steinberg is classified as “cartoonist and illustrator”, and Reginald Marsh is both artist (by virtue of his paintings) and illustrator. Illustrators of children’s books […]

  8. Realism plus « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] realism on this blog: a posting on  Jack Frankfurter, Edward Hopper, and Paul Cadmus; one on George Tooker, with mention of Cadmus and Reginald Marsh; another on Tooker, paired with […]

  9. Surrealists | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] example of his work), which combines realist composition allied to surrealist content, and then in a posting on George Tooker (who was influenced by Cadmus), and also in a posting on cartoonist Bill […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: