George Tooker

George Tooker

George Tooker, Embrace of Peace, egg tempera, 1986

George Tooker, American painter passed away March 27, 2011 at the age of 90.

Tooker appeared on my egg tempera radar in 1992. He was one of three major contemporary artists working in the medium, along with Andrew Wyeth and Robert Vickery.

In those days I was hunkered down in my Florida studio on the Tomoka River, struggling to learn the forgotten art of egg tempera. Constantly experimenting, making gesso, mixing pigments from scratch, just muddling along. My only guides, ragged paperback copies of the Practice and Technique of Egg Tempera Painting and Cennino Cennini’s handbook. . . Text only – no pics.

Then that same year, a full color art book came out on the life work of George Tooker. Beautiful, sensitive expressions of humanity caught in life passages and societal limbo zones, painted in gentle, glowing translucent colors. And. . . . Every painting rendered in egg tempera. To top it off were Tooker’s egg tempera techniques and insightful thoughts on pages seven and eight. Mamma mia! I inhaled them, devouring these practical words that encouraged me to continue in tempera.

Tooker painted representational art at a time in America when Abstraction was ascending the art world. He stayed his course for over fifty years. Today his paintings are preserved in many museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. In the latter part of his life George Tooker lived humbly in a cottage in Vermont, tending his garden, cooking simple meals, and painting. He was a sensitive, mindful artist – one of my favorite of his quotes, talking about the demanding meditative nature of egg tempera, Tooker said:

“. . . it’s slow, and since I am slow in knowing just what I want to do, it suits me well.”

Like any true artist he spoke his mind through his body of work, and he spoke it elegantly, quietly with conviction.

Late in life Tooker converted to Roman Catholicism. For his local church in Vermont, he painted a series of large egg temperas titled The Seven Sacraments. It’s on my list of art pilgrimages.

Rest in Peace George Tooker.

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