George Tooker – Landscape with Figures (1965)

With the advent of abstract expressionism, George Tooker was for decades forgotten, until the 1980s when he re-established himself as a prominent figure of American painting. Although his subject work varied, the most powerful scenes the American artist ever produced are deeply satirical in nature, a social commentary on the human condition amid an increasingly hostile environment, dominated by fast technology and capitalist greed.

Tooker’s paintings show the alienation and disconnection of modern life. They present urbanization as the cause of the dehumanization of people. Entrapped in modern scenes, the generic figures he depicted can barely be told apart. Monotonous and repetitive, they look more like robots than actual human beings.

George Tooker - Landscape with Figures
George Tooker – Landscape with Figures (1965), egg tempera on pressed wood

Such is the case for Landscape with Figures, a satire of the bureaucratic world, with male and female employees alike caged in a maze of very small, coffin-like cubicles that have no exits. Hunched over, most of the office workers stare blankly, while others are keeping their eyes shut. The only person that stands apart is the man in the center who is wearing sunglasses. The orange-red light that washes over them increases the discomfort of the painting and draws attention to the danger of people losing their humanity and individuality. Tooker’s decades old warning stands as true today as it did in the 1960s: you do not need to die in order to get to hell.

9 thoughts on “George Tooker – Landscape with Figures (1965)

  1. You wouldn’t believe, I read the first portion , saw the painting and formed this remark in my head, I am the person middle third row, more so out of randomness than particularly picking him out.
    But reading second half of the blog tells me there is something about him.
    Anywho, what a painting. It stands testament to where we are headed towards, have been and are stuck in.
    Masterpiece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Two days ago you were on the ledge, about to fall off. Yesterday you were a suffering artist. Today you’re trapped in a maze of cubicles in hell… You really need a new job!

      What do you think the sunglasses mean? Is there some hope for individuality or is that just a way to protect himself from the harsh light?

      Like

      1. I thought about. (For a long time as you might have observed ) I don’t think there is something different when it comes to that guy. Some of the figures are looking towards the watcher ( observer ), while some are barely looking away. A couple can be seen with their eyes shut. This particular man could just be wearing glasses. This man happens to wear glasses, does that make him different maybe, maybe not. Then again, the title makes one think that it is all an endevour in capturing the nightmare of being insignificantly common and mundane.

        What haunts me most in this painting is the top right corner , which is again lit up, after a shadowy region in between.
        One is scared to be a commoner , the same, a regular, but doesn’t one seek safety in number too ?
        How lonely does a Hero feel ?!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. This question has been eating away at you… Thank you for all the thought and time you put into this. Maybe there’s (inner) freedom in that hero’s individuality.

          I personally found his sunglasses quite amusing, cheeky even. As if Tooker was testing our attention to see if we’d notice the man. But he’s placed so centrally, that it cannot be an accident. If strength is in the numbers – like you say – then he could be isolated twice. Isolated like the rest of them and isolated by being (slightly) different from all the other entrapped people, even when he’s right in the center of them. Basically: you can feel more alone than ever even amid other lonely people. I doubt Tooker had this in mind. Simple speculations. It’s nice to get the brain working though. 😉

          There is something about him, I’m quite sure. I would rather see it as a joke or hope for individuality and resistance to oppression.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. I have been trying to keep the posts short and sweet. It’s not always going as planned as some posts end up being far too long, but hopefully it gives more space to the readers to make up their own minds and offer their own opinions.

              Liked by 1 person

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