Expression and Intimate Human Connection: Interview with Tucker Eason
Using oil paint, I combine elements of representational portraiture and gestural abstraction into a vehicle for expression greater than either can provide in isolation. Drawing from personal experience, the renderings are designed to explore human nature and evoke feelings of closeness, intimacy, sorrow, and integrity. The relationship I have with my models shines through the medium inviting the viewer to a space of disarming familiarity, comfort, and trust.
My current work is a conversation about masculinity with transformative men in my life. I tell them, often for the first time, how they have shaped who I am and why I care so deeply for them. By subverting the traditional idea of heteronormative masculinity, I invite my subject to show up with an understanding of humility, safety, and love, giving the paintings a distinct sensitivity.
Combined with elements of abstraction, these portraits explore expression, honesty, and intimate human connection. Focusing on abstract painting in conversation with representation, I take agency to communicate directly with viewer. I use my work to express authentic and essential humanity.
Tell us about your early interest in painting. When did you decide to commit to the arts?
I was really lucky. I had incredible, supportive high school instructors that let me use the art space in off hours. I gravitated to the studio as a sort of refuge. I still find refuge in the studio, but now rather than escaping, it is a space for creating and centering. I never considered myself a naturally talented draftsman so I was constantly putting out work, sketches mostly, I tried calligraphy, sculpture painting, and ceramics. I took all the art classes they offered and still felt unfulfilled with my growth. I remember I stayed up nights to recreate the senior assignments as a freshman, trying to build a better toolkit for my work.
In undergrad, I spent a ton of time in the sculpture studio. I became shop manager and held open studio sessions 3 nights a week. I focused primarily on drawing, I was making quaint portraits with graphite and charcoal but my scale shifted. After working on a large format photo project under Marybeth Heffernan I started a series of wall-sized figurative installations. I started taking advantage of the studio and attached gallery space and structure in ways I couldn't see before. Under the guidance of the mentor and instructor Linda Besemer, I started to shake some of the self-conscious doubt that had plagued my work. She challenged me to let go of control and loosen the reigns, I'm still working on those lessons today.
After college, I moved home and painted out of my mom's garage until I got a studio assistant job in the Bay Area. I quit my job and moved to Oakland three weeks later.
You mention your deep care about the figures in your work. Was there a defining moment or life experience which changed the way you approach portraiture?
When I first started painting seriously my goal was to make my pieces as technically specific as possible and I quickly realized how inanimate my subjects felt. Looking at the portraits I saw well-rendered representations but not the light and energy of the person across from me. Seeing my friends and family flattened and lifeless shifted the goal of my work. I lost interest in photorealistic renderings and moved towards painting their life and experience. I changed the way I shot reference photos, the way I applied paint, and the attitude with which I approached the canvas.
I began to open doors of vulnerability between myself and the model, letting them show up in intimate ways I hadn't seen before. Instead of taking something from my models to create, we were sharing something and that could shine through the finished product.
Before, I painted portraits. Now I paint people. It's freeing.
What's the most exciting thing about your process? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Seeing what the painting will bring into the studio space, how we connect and interact. Its a sort of dance. I'm never really sure what an end piece will look like. I always have an idea, but the end result is something that changes and often surprises me. That's not to say I am always pleased with the result, I scrap more canvases than I finish, but it's always exciting.
I show up and work with whatever I have that day, and the painting reacts. Seeing paintings unfold and open up is a kind of magic.
That said, I think my favorite part of the process is when a piece is about three quarters finished. It's an elusive, mysterious time filled with possibility. That's the absolute best, deep in the midst of a project with a feeling about the turnout, but no guarantee. I have been playing with the idea of leaving work "unfinished" to draw the mysterious feeling out a bit, we'll see how that goes.
Name a few influences and inspiration that have had a role in your development as a painter.
In an insane twist of fate, I literally bumped into my favorite artist of all time this year on the street at Art Basel, Miami. Chuck Close was waiting for a ride in the rain when I walked past on my way to an exhibit. I doubled back, shook his hand and after telling him that he personally was the reason I chose to pursue art, I thanked him and moved on. I promptly sat down on a park bench in the warm rain and teared up. It was like meeting a mentor I never had. I have spent hundreds of hours looking at and studying his work with no intention of ever meeting him, then he was there, in front of me. It was one of the craziest world shaking experiences of my life.
Other artists I admire include Eloy Morales, Egon Schiele, Adolf Gotlieb, Mark Rothko, Anselm Kiefer, Gerhardt Richter, Nan Goldin, Alice Neel, Sandra Shriver and Willem DeKooning.
When you are not creating, what do you love to do most? How do you recharge?
I spend a lot of time traveling. Road trips are my favorite, especially in foreign countries by unusual methods of transport. I ride a motorcycle and sleep under the stars. I rock climb, working from the Bay Area a quick trip to Yosemite is a gift. To stay focused on the things I care about I meditate and journal daily, but the best recharge is talking to my family.
Share a bit of advice that helped you along the way so far.
The biggest takeaway I have had from any lecture, art talk, or mentor is that inspiration is for amateurs. Early in my college career, I saw a speaker who writes for The Rolling Stone magazine. During the Q and A, he unpacked the sentiment a bit further. 'I write four stories a week,' he said (and I'm paraphrasing), 'I don't have time for inspiration. I'm going to write four stories because that's my job. They are all going to be pretty good, and some will be great, that's how it is. Inspiration doesn't matter. If this is your job, then do it.'
I walked out of that classroom with a newfound work ethic and appreciation for the creative grind. This career is not romantic or easy, it's your job. Go crush it.
What's next for you? What are you currently working on?
In addition to two shows, Homesick and Startup, I have two collections building in the studio. Right now I am finishing the Inspiration Series about men in my life who have changed me. I'm also getting my True Feelings series off the ground. True Feelings is a dualistic take on partnerships in both a film and paint production. I have a Gentle series on the horizon focusing on human genitalia and its relationship to gender, but that's unveiling in 2019.