“George Moore said, ‘School … killed the life of love and art.’ I would not let it kill me.”
As a young teenager, distinguished novelist and short story writer Frederic Tuten dreamed of being a painter and living in Paris. Inspired by such books as George Moore’s memoir, Confessions of a Young Man, and Djuna Barnes’s novel, Nightwood, Frederic’s teenage fantasies placed him in a Parisian garret with a model who would serve as muse and lover.
The boy dreamt large: In his 2019 memoir, My Young Life, Tuten describes with charming self-effacement making his very first oil paint purchases, selecting “a cerulean blue, for the skies I would one day paint en plein air, like Van Gogh; a jaune citron for the sunflowers I would come across somewhere … a tube also of noir d’ivoire that I would need for outlining, for boldness, as did Gauguin.” He made sure to buy a jar of glaze to protect the colors from aging: “I had longevity planned for my paintings.”
Acknowledging that his teenage thoughts of life as an artist were frequently accompanied by “the burning of lust and the fantasy of sex,” the fifteen-year-old dropped out of High School to earn ship’s passage to Paris and enough to live for a few weeks “until my paintings sold.” Reality intruded and he realized that he needed some instruction and he signed up for a beginner life drawing class at the Art Students League where he was quickly and painfully disabused of the idea that he could render the figure on paper, which, at the time, he believed was requisite to being an artist. He stopped studying drawing, but his interest and passion for art never abated.
At nineteen, he went to the University of Mexico to study pre-Columbian art and Mexican mural painting and was befriended by the artists of the Taller de Gráfica Popular. Throughout his life, he has been friends with and reviewed and written about many of America’s greatest artists. And he continued to make drawings. And, at some point, some twenty years ago, he shyly showed some of drawings to his close friend Roy Lichtenstein who suggested that he “impress the pencil on the paper with various different pressures” and strongly encouraged him to continue to make art.
Today, Tuten’s work is sold through Harper’s Manhattan and East Hampton Galleries. He will have a show at Harper’s in East Hampton opening June 26, 2021.
Frederic Tuten has won three Pushcart prizes and an O ’Henry award for fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Award for Distinguished Writing from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has written five novels: The Adventures of Mao on the Long March (1971), Tallien: A Brief Romance (1988), Tintin in the New World: A Romance (1993), Van Gogh’s Bad Café (1997) and The Green Hour (2002), a book of inter-related short stories, Self-Portraits: Fictions (2010). His numerous essays include many about contemporary art.
This painting from the Harper’s show is entitled “In the Far Country.”
Please check out The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture by Writers for more than 400 plates of artwork by great writers and the stories behind them.
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