Eric Tucker was born in Warrington in 1932, the son of a greengrocer's assistant and a domestic servant. He began drawing as a child, decorating the walls of his grandmother's coal hole where he was hidden during air raids. When Tucker was 10 years old, his father was killed in action during WWII. It was a loss from which Tucker never completely recovered.
He left school at 14 and was apprenticed as a sign-writer; a role he never took up. He joined a local boxing club and fought as an amateur, at clubs, fairgrounds and fetes. From there he drifted into the murky world of unlicensed boxing until he briefly turned professional.
Following National Service - from which he frequently went AWOL, serving several spells in 'The Glasshouse' (military prison) as a result - he had a string of jobs; as a building labourer, a gravedigger, in a timber yard and a brewery. He spent a year in South Wales, labouring on the construction of the great steelworks at Llanwern, living in dosshouses in Tiger Bay; the notoriously dangerous dockside area of Cardiff, which he greatly preferred to the army.
He returned to Warrington and his mother's end-of-terrace house, where he remained for the rest of his life, never marrying or having children. He found work in the delivery yard of a local construction company and, in his late twenties, he began to paint prolifically. Painting whenever his working life allowed - on weekends and after hours, often late into the night - he created images of the world around him; working class life in the industrial north, the streets and back alleys, the pubs and clubs. Self-educated in art, he was a regular visitor to the galleries of nearby Manchester.
In the course of nearly 60 years, he made very few attempts to sell or show his work and few beyond close family were aware that he painted at all. Sometime in the mid 1970s a painted horse appeared in the window of a local bookmakers. Warrington Town Council ordered it removed; it was causing tailbacks in the passing traffic. Tucker, a regular gambler, was rumoured to be the artist.
At the age of 86, and knowing he was close to the end of his life, Tucker expressed a wish to his younger brother that his paintings be seen. It was then, and during the weeks that followed his death in the summer of 2018, that his family came to realise just how much work he had produced, discovering hundreds of paintings stacked up in every room of his house, in cupboards and on top of wardrobes, and thousands of drawings, in drawers and bulging sketchpads wedged between furniture.
Three months after his death his family opened his house as a gallery and, over two days, some two thousand visitors queued around the block to see his work. News of the hoard of paintings made first local and then national news. The critic Robin Simon called Tucker 'a real discovery'. Art historian Ruth Millington described the collection as 'a remarkable, important find'.
The following year Warrington Museum & Art Gallery gave Eric Tucker a solo exhibition, his first at a public gallery, dedicated, as per his wish, to the memory of his father. Attracting an estimated 18,000 visitors, it quickly became one of the most popular exhibitions in the gallery's 170 year history.
Alon Zakaim Fine Art & Connaught Brown
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