George Tooker (b. Aug. 5, 1920): The Waiting Room, 1959 - egg tempera on wood (Smithsonian)
“The Waiting Room is a kind of purgatory—-people just waiting—-waiting to wait. It is not living. It is a matter of waiting—-not being one’s self. Not enjoying life, not being happy, waiting, always waiting for something that might be better—-which never comes. Why can’t they just enjoy the moment?” The artist, quoted in Garver, George Tooker, 1985
George Tooker grew frustrated with the bureaucracy while trying to obtain building permits for a house he bought in New York. He painted several images that show “faceless” government workers and run-down people getting nowhere (Garver, George Tooker, 1985). The clinical interior of The Waiting Room evokes the conformity of the 1950s and emphasizes the pale, drawn expressions on the figures. The people stand in numbered boxes, evoking ideas of standardization that force people into predefined categories. The man on the left appears to be in charge of the “sorting,” creating a sinister view of government scrutiny. (Smithsonian label)
“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).