Critics’ Picks

Frederic Tuten, Sunday Morning for the Sombrero Family, 2020, pastel pencil and ink on cardboard, 16 x 12”.

Frederic Tuten, Sunday Morning for the Sombrero Family, 2020, pastel pencil and ink on cardboard, 16 x 12”.

East Hampton

Frederic Tuten

Harper's East Hampton
87 Newtown Lane
June 26–July 21, 2021

Most famous for his ebullient 2019 memoir, My Young Life, the octogenarian author and art critic Frederic Tuten, encouraged by his lifelong friend Roy Lichtenstein, returned to painting and drawing while in his sixties after a decades-long break. In 2013, he began working on a series of pictures—intimate scenes of cozy interiors featuring elegant lamps, flowerpots, teacups, and kitchen tables—which he would regularly post to his Instagram.

But, recently, he left the confines of this small domestic world and with ink, crayon, pastel, and oil paint on cardboard, started making more complex and colorful drawings based on the adventures of three sentient chapeaux he calls the Sombreros. According to Tuten, whose new characters inhabit a variety of dreamscapes, their story goes like this: One day in a Mexican cantina, the Sombreros discovered that they all despised their respective owners. “Why don’t we just leave them? We have nothing to lose but our heads,” they said. So the trio flew away in pursuit of their own adventures and into the most exotic of territories. (It’s worth noting that Tuten’s fantasias about the Sombreros will soon to be collected into a book published by Koenig.)

Not thinking about anything except the sheer pleasure of making the work, Tuten forges wondrous paths that lead his unusual protagonists into fanciful realms populated by commedia dell’arte–style figures with elongated noses, puffy clouds, and azure mountains and seas, among other things. The more familiar vases of flowers and pieces of furniture make appearances too, but with totally distorted perspectives and wonky proportions. Tuten is not looking for a precision of form and space—he holds his pencil loose, letting his hand do what it wants. The pictures are enlivened by his playfully dancing lines, giving his imagery a childlike sense of wonder and freedom. Such lines, seemingly moving of their own accord, inspire us to be just as spirited and creative and capricious as the artist.