Jacob Lawrence (1917 – 2000) once wrote, “For me, the most important function of art is observation.” He was inspired by and created works based on his own experiences of everyday life in Harlem and the history of African Americans the United States. In The Wedding (1948), Lawrence simultaneously depicted the solemnity and the joy of the marriage ceremony. Although the preacher’s face is only partially defined, he appears to look down with great seriousness at the couple as they contemplate their vows. The large, colorful urns overflowing with brilliant flowers signify the prosperity of this union
While George Tooker’s paintings typically convey the artist’s passionate desire for social harmony and justice, Government Bureau (1956) represents a darker, more pessimistic dimension of his art.
The work takes the viewer inside a cold, starkly lit interior filled with anonymous bodies and cubicles. Eerily, the circular windows in the cubical walls reveal nothing but the tired, sad eyes of government employees staring blankly. The scene’s unsettling remoteness is accentuated by Tooker’s fine and detailed technique, rooted in the Italian Renaissance egg-tempera painting.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
For The Subway (1950), George Tooker used a claustrophobic, labyrinthine subway station to portray the alienation and the isolation of contemporary urban life. These urban dwellers — all of whom seem to have the same face — seem frozen, trapped by the architecture of the subway station. Tooker rendered this distinctly modern subject in egg tempera, a medium associated almost exclusively with the Renaissance. The technique creates a smooth, matte surface and is ideal for making sharp, clear lines, which together lend the anxious scene an eerie placidity. The artist said that he attempted to paint reality in a way that would impress it “on the mind so hard that it returns as a dream.” I love this painting.
Photographed in the Whitney Museum of American Art, now in its new home at 99 Gansevoort Street, New York, NY 10014, in the Meatpacking District, adjacent to the Highline.