Monday, 5 December 2011


“One cannot walk through an assembly factory and not feel that one is in Hell.” - W. H. Auden

The image today that Magpie Tales has selected is Lunch”, by George Tooker, painted in 1964, and exhibited in the Columbus Museum of Art. I was not aware of the work of this artist, so I googled…

George Clair Tooker, Jr. (August 5, 1920  – March 27, 2011) was a figurative painter whose works are associated with the Magic realism and Social Realism movements. Tooker was raised by his Anglo/French-American father George Clair Tooker and English/Spanish-Cuban mother Angela Montejo Roura in Brooklyn Heights and Bellport, New York, along with his sister, Mary Fancher Tooker. Tooker wanted to attend art school rather than college, but ultimately abided by his parents’ wishes and majored in English literature at Harvard University, while still devoting much of his time to painting. During 1942, he graduated from college and then entered the Marine Corps but was discharged due to ill-health.

In 1943 Tooker began attending at the Art Students League of New York, where he studied with Reginald Marsh and Kenneth Hayes Miller. Early in his career Tooker’s work was often compared with other painters such as Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, and his close friends Jared French and Paul Cadmus. Working with the then-revitalised tradition of egg tempera, Tooker addressed issues of modern-day alienation with subtly eerie and often visually literal depictions of social withdrawal and isolation.

He had a long-time partner, William Christopher, who died in 1973. He was one of nine recipients of the National Medal of Arts in 2007. Tooker died on March 27, 2011, due to kidney failure.

The painting is gloomy and captures the urban reality of so many of the denizens of the industrial megalopoleis. The poem below was written quickly and spontaneously immediately I looked at the painting. the result is literal and (hopefully) magically realistic as is the painting.

Lunch Break

Some days I feel like that:
Work, eat, sleep,
Work, eat, sleep.
My mind grows numb
As those around me
Look right through me
As though I were a ghost.

Some days the gray skies
Permeate my soul
Deadening it imperceptibly.
And the rain seeps into
Every interstitial space
Of my cellular matrix,
Diluting my spirit.

Some days the gnawing
Of teeth on identical feed,
Reminds me of rats
With black beady eyes,
Deriving nourishment from
The suspicious overcrowding
Of the rat-race.

Some days in this dog-eat-dog world,
I close my eyes as I chomp
(Making papier maché
Out of my cardboard lunch)
And I think of green pastures,
Sunshine, fresh herbs
Fruits of the earth, just picked…


  1. Intriguing and quite remarkable the way each stanza comes alive in its final two or three lines. I wonder: did you intend that, or is it one of those happy accidents? A poem that grows on me with each re-reading.

  2. Hi Nicholas - I like the repetition of starting each stanza with 'some days' Then each stanza is a separate little gem, any one of which is complete in-and-of itself. Also liked the info. about the painting.

  3. I enjoyed your Magpie! Some days ... I am thankful to be 70 and retired!

  4. "Those around me look right through me as though I were a ghost." I'm sure many of us feel the truth of this observation.

    I like your repetition and your introductory information. I too touched upon rodents in my poem but curiously never gave the rat race a thought as I did so; it does fit the painting well though.

  5. You have done well getting inside the head of an assembly-line worker.

  6. (Making papier maché
    Out of my cardboard lunch)

    Oh, so perfect. I have a partial loaf of non-bread bread left over from my sister's visit. The white sandwiches in Tooker's lunch reminded me of that and I threw it out to the birds.

    Once again you have supplied the bit of history and biography that is substance behind the image and came up with the perfect poem.

    Remember the song - Little houses made of ticky tacky. And now you have give me sandwiches of papier mache

  7. Sigh. How sad that so many spend their days this way.

    Wonderful piece, indeed.

  8. (Making papier maché
    Out of my cardboard lunch)

    How well you captured the feeling of this Magpie picture! Well done!

  9. Great write...I think we've all felt this...

  10. Yes, some days are like this. I hate those days. Your poem, though, I liked very much!

  11. Very bleak painting that is complemented by your poem, Nicholas. How we all long for the natural life, but how difficult is it nowadays to live it!

  12. A brilliant observation of the bleak life of some and it made me feel quite sad - I would despair if part of that rat race.

    "And I think of green pastures,
    Sunshine, fresh herbs
    Fruits of the earth, just picked…
    " - this dream picked me back up.

    Excellent write.

    Anna :o]