George Tooker

Embrace

Voice

Although I can easily relate to conceptual artists, I can find in myself strong influences by artists of widely varying media.  Even though I do not paint with oil on the canvas, I respect painters who explore their thoughts on the two dimensional surface.  I choose media depending on my concept; if painting is the best way to manifest the concept, I will use it.  George Tooker (US. b. 1920) is one of the painters who have influenced me.  I discovered the similarities between his thought and mine a short while after my first solo exhibition, Free-contact.  I was introduced to his drawings by Professor Martin Levine.  Some critics have described his style as “magic realism,” but he was not interested in the illusionary effects that many of the painters of that style espouse. He has regarded himself as more of a reporter or observer of society than an interpreter.  His paintings are realistic; despite occasional use of strong colors, they mostly involve grey, pastel tones.

I was especially deeply impressed by two of his lithographs: Embrace and Voice. The subjects of both works are pairs of people.  I was struck by the similarities between Tooker’s Embrace and the dream that led me to create Free-contact, as well as between Voice and the form I had chosen for my installation.  The similarities, including walls that separate people, longing, hugging, and listening seem to aspire to common feelings between people.

In Embrace, I could directly connect its background to my dream placed in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Korea.  The DMZ resembles a nature preserve, completely forbidden to the people, which seemed similar for me to the bare mountainous landscape in the background of Embrace.  The drawing Voice is separated in half by a wall, with a man on each of its sides. The man on the left leans on the wall, trying to listen to the other’s “voice”.  The man on the right side of the wall is talking with his mouth open.  The eyes of both men are big and filled with sorrow.

After that, I acquainted myself more thoroughly with Tooker’s work, and visited his exhibition at the National Academy Museum in Manhattan which I found rich and delicate.  Compared with his drawings, my installation Free-contact was more physical and complicated.  The installation required an extreme amount of labor; I had to sew the sleeves and other shapes in the fabric wall, as well as construct a long and complex frame.  By presenting the project as an installation, I encouraged invaluable physical interaction between audience members that is not attainable through drawing.  Still, I appreciated Tooker’s drawings which provided a direct rendering of his idea.

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