Having completed his English degree at Harvard, Tooker went to New York in 1943 to study at the Art Students League, where he worked for two years with Reginald Marsh. Like his friends Jared French and Paul Cadmus, Tooker paints in egg tempera and borrows compositional arrangements from the Renaissance Italians, but his thematic ties are with the existential ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett. Many of Tooker's paintings contain a strong element of implicit social comment, and he creates silent theaters in which reality is transformed into deadeningly repetitive drama. He uses precise, geometric architectural structures as backdrops for his protagonists, who often appear as shrouded, shapeless masses contained within boxes or cubicles. Human isolation, self-alienation, and spiritually void rituals are recurring themes in his work.
Virginia M. Mecklenburg Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1987)
George Tooker learned to paint from a local Long Island artist when he was just seven years old. He studied English literature, then joined the Marine Corps, but after an illness forced him to leave the service he decided to enter the Art Students League in New York. He befriended the painter Paul Cadmus, who encouraged him to use the classical medium of egg tempera. In 1950, Tooker and his lover, fellow artist William Christopher, rented an illegal loft in an unfashionable area of town, painting and making furniture in order to survive. After a few years, they moved to Vermont and spent their summers in Malaga, Spain. Tooker creates detailed paintings based on his own experiences that often evoke erotic, nightmarish worlds. (Garver, George Tooker, 1985)