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.
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.