Friday, April 1, 2011

Remembering George Tooker, Painter Of Anxiety And Alienation

George Tooker (1920-2011), who died last Sunday, expressed more powerfully than any other American painter two prominent themes in 20th-century arts: anxiety and alienation. Much of his work could be seen as the visual equivalent of the novels of Franz Kafka, in their depiction of disconsolate citizens confronting faceless bureaucracies. “Government Bureau” (1956) above was painted after Tooker's frustrating experience trying to renovate a house in Brooklyn. The isolation and fear in "The Subway" (1950) are heightened by the claustrophobic sense of being trapped in an underground maze:

Tooker, who refused to discuss the meaning of his work, did not see himself as a painter of fantasies or dreams, but of aspects of everyday life that make a powerful impression: "I am after reality–painting impressed on the mind so hard that it recurs as a dream, but I am not after dreams as such, or fantasy."

Further images of the work of this remarkable artist are available through a slide show.


Davin said...

The problem of alienation is not one which can be understood only in a human context. Interestingly, those cultures in which people felt they had a meaningful role were also ones in which people believed the cosmos was a meaningful place, for example, created by a God who brought life into existence for a purpose.

This does not prove that traditional belief is true. Nor does it mean that people did not suffer from other terrors, whether human or natural in origin.

But they were not alienated. They fit in, even if the ultimate experience of connectedness was one which awaited them in a life beyond this one.

Fortunate are those who can affirm ultimate meaning -- or if one prefer a physicalist explanation, whose neurons predispose them to beleiving in such.

Whether we believe or not, hopefully compassion for those who with us suffer life's challenges can itself bring us increasingly together.

On this, I believe, Mother Teresa, the believer, and Albert Camus, the nonbeliever, would agree.

Jeff Tone said...

Davin: I'm not sure how alienation can be separated from a human context. When we speak of it, after all, we refer to human beings feeling alienated.

I do agree, though, that those who express compassion, regardless of their religious beliefs, are connected to others and transcend alienation.