Eric Tucker (1932 - 2018)

Bedroom Table

Eric Tucker was born in Warrington, Lancashire in 1932. He left school at 14 and was apprenticed as a sign writer - a role he never took up. In his youth he fought as an amateur and, briefly, a professional boxer. Following National Service and time spent working on the great steel works at Llanwern in South Wales he returned to Warrington, finding work as a casual building labourer. He never married or had children, and lived the rest of his life in the council house he shared with his mother and stepfather.

He had two enduring pursuits in life - gambling on the horses, and painting. The latter was his great love. In the front room of his mother’s house he produced work over more than 60 years, painting whenever his working life allowed, between jobs and after hours. With compositions assembled from memory and imagination, from the countless sketches he made on scraps of paper, and the magazines and newspapers he hoarded, all of his paintings were produced in this one, small room.

He created images of the world and people he knew, often placing the viewer close to the action, one amongst the crowd. Self educated in art, he was a regular visitor to Manchester’s galleries - as well as the city’s illicit drinking dens. He was a firm believer that it was among the lowest echelons of society that the richest life was to be found.

Depicting punters and revellers - the “rough and ready” as he would describe them, by way of recommendation - he was drawn to the surreal and the comic, and to characters on the margins - with whom he felt great affinity. He held little distinction between high and low culture; in his studio, you were as likely to find a record by Ken Dodd as you were an exhibition catalogue on Edward Burra.

During his lifetime he almost entirely refused to exhibit or sell his work - but in his final year he expressed a wish for it to be seen. Cataloguing the work after his death in Summer 2018, his family found more than 400 paintings, stacked up in every room of his house, in cupboards and wardrobes - and thousands of drawings, stuffed in drawers and old suitcases. In October 2018, by way of introducing his work to the public, they opened his house as a free gallery, attracting thousands of visitors and national press coverage.

Quoted in the i newspaper, art historian Ruth Millington said: “The collection is a remarkable, important find… I think he [Tucker] falls into the English surrealist movement.... His work might be tied with Julian Trevelyan or Eric Ravilious.”

Robin Simon, the Daily Mail’s art critic, wrote: “Eric Tucker, like his hoard of paintings, is a real discovery. His style is very like that of L.S. Lowry. Here are the same pubs, clubs and factories, the same northern mixture of warmth and bleakness. There is a profound difference. Lowry was content with anonymous matchstick men, but Tucker depicts real individuals, characters you could see across a crowded room any night in Warrington… Tucker has a most accomplished painting technique in oils and watercolours, with a sound sense of tone and colour. This is serious stuff. What lends his paintings such a professional air must be the influence of the Belgian painter James Ensor. Tucker could have seen his works in books. There is the same love of clowns and crowds, and heightened characterisation. There can even be the same intensity in the application of paint.”

A note on the artist by his brother

My brother was one of life's irregulars.

Both ordinary and extraordinary.

What he did, what he created in his work, he did on his own.

Little support, little education, certainly no opportunity to go to Art School.

What he did was to plough his own furrow, to find himself as an artist, unmediated, for good or ill, by any formal training or involvement in the art establishment and its various movements and cliques over the decades he painted.

He painted from where he stood.

The jazz musician Thelonious Monk wrote 'A genius is the one most like himself'.

My brother in his life and his art was always exactly himself.

He lacked confidence, aspiration and ambition but was also mercifully free of pretence, artfulness and self aggrandisement in his work. With little thought or hope of recognition, he painted with total commitment.

He painted because he had to and in doing so conjured a world now lost - with a clarity and consistency that is both painful and joyful.

Tony Tucker.