It’s the cluttered living room of a Warrington council house: gas fireplace in a tiled surround, glass-fronted display case housing valuable knick-knacks; shoes tucked under a chair; Magazines and books were piled up. And in the middle an easel, surrounded by tubes of paint and cans of brushes.
In this room, Eric Tucker, an artist who was virtually unknown until his death in 2018 but has since been compared to LS Lowry, painted people in the pub and on the street gossiping, reading, smoking and playing cards.
It was recreated in a gallery in Mayfair using furniture and personal effects from the home Tucker shared with his mother for decades. “This is it, this is the space to AT,” said Karen Kenna, the artist’s younger sister.
A few blocks away, another upscale Mayfair gallery has been transformed into a 1960s pub, with a dark wood-panelled bar, a jar of pickled eggs, and ashtrays covered in dog ends. The scene is typical of the pubs visited – and painted – by Tucker.
The galleries – Alon Zakaim Fine Art and Connaught Brown – are exhibiting 46 of Tucker’s oil paintings and watercolors this month. Three days before the opening of the exhibition, more than 20 had already been sold.
Tucker, born in 1932, had various jobs after graduating from high school at 14, including digging for dead and unloading trucks at a construction yard. “He came off his shift and painted late into the night and on weekends,” said his nephew Joe Tucker. “He had an urge to paint whenever he had the time.”
It was not until the end of Tucker’s life that his family realized how much he had painted and how good his work was. His brother Tony – Joe’s father – said last year: “I knew he was painting in the living room and there were some paintings upstairs, but I had no real idea of how much material was actually there.
“I looked up at the bedrooms, which were covered in artworks on the walls and even on the beds. I later discovered that there were paintings in the attic, under the stairs, and even in the shed at the back of the house. The whole thing was pretty amazing.”
Tucker was self-taught, visiting galleries and museums in Manchester and occasionally London. He painted what he saw around him, mainly street scenes and people in pubs. But he didn’t show his work, and the only time he sold a few paintings he was so outraged at the dealer’s commission that he vowed never to do so again.
“I saw him drawing on scraps of paper under the table in a pub once,” Joe said. “Even as a kid of about eight I could see that he was picking out the most interesting characters. He made three or four quick sketches and later painted them.
“I spent a lot of time with him as a kid. He would pick me up from school. His jacket was held together with scotch tape, he cut his own hair with kitchen scissors. He was fun and funny.”
After Tucker died in 2018 and his siblings discovered the extent of his work, the family decided to host an exhibition at his home. “We turned the house into a gallery and thought maybe some of the neighbors would come.” Around 2,000 visitors came over two days.
A retrospective at the Warrington Museum and Art Gallery followed, and in 2020 Connaught Brown and Alon Zakaim Fine Art showed 14 of Tucker’s watercolors online. All sold within hours.
Tucker had “a style of his own, a way of telling a story that’s unique and distinctive,” said Alon Zakaim. “You’re transported back to a time and place, you know immediately what you’re looking at.”
Comparisons with Lowry were quickly drawn. “He was interested in Lowry as a northern painter who painted what was around him. Lowry was certainly an influence,” Joe said. But Tucker also drew on Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.
It’s hard to say what Tucker would have thought of the Mayfair displays and replicas of his home and local pub, Joe said. “It’s so far from his world. I think he would be satisfied – I think he felt his work had value. But he would also say: why did you do it that way? He would have a few complaints.”
Eric Tucker At Home: From Warrington to the West End is on view through December 23 at Alon Zakaim Fine Art and Connaught Brown.