Frederic Tuten: A Life Dedicated to The Arts

Frederic Tuten
Frederic Tuten

Famous New York writer and lifelong artist Frederic Tuten recently completed his second solo art show at Harper’s bookstore and art gallery in East Hampton. Following that accomplishment, he’s now taking a brief moment to reflect and look ahead to the future.

The exhibition, which ran from June 26 through July 21, was titled Works on Cardboard and featured a colorful collection of Tuten’s recent works using a variety of different mediums. Ink, crayon, pastel and oil paint were all employed on Tuten’s cardboard canvases. “The pigment is partially absorbed into the tan surface of the cardboard, muting the chroma to enhance the hazy, dreamlike quality of his scenes,” Chris Mansour wrote for the Harper’s website.

Frederic Tuten's "Sombreros Among the Pylons"
Frederic Tuten’s “Sombreros Among the Pylons”

If there is an internal theme to this collection of Tuten’s whimsical works, it would be a trio of sombreros, which appear floating around many of the paintings. Met by scenic backdrops, varied furniture and abstracted faces, the sombreros find adventure wherever they go. This isn’t just a viewer’s interpretation, either—Tuten is expected to release an art book with Koenig Books Ltd. soon that features fanciful short stories alongside around 40 of his drawings and paintings. With each painting of the sombreros, Tuten specifies that there will be “a little story about how the sombreros left their masters—their heads, so to speak.”

Tuten’s return to the art world comes after a long time away. As Ida Panicelli wrote for Artforum, “Encouraged by his lifelong friend Roy Lichtenstein, (Tuten) returned to painting and drawing while in his sixties after a decades-long break.”

Born in the Bronx, Tuten dropped out of high school as a teenager to pursue his dream of becoming a painter in Paris. Little did he know at the time, it would be a successful writing career that was waiting for him. After a short stint at the Art Students League, he graduated New York University with a Ph.D. in early 19th century American literature and began traveling through South and Latin America, researching Brazilian film and Mexican mural painting. When Tuten returned to Paris, he continued writing, as well as teaching film and literature at the University of Paris. He then returned to New York and co-founded a graduate program in creative writing at the City College of New York, which he led for 15 years. Throughout his writing career, he’s published five novels—The Adventures of Mao on the Long March, Tallien: A Brief Romance, Tintin in the New World, Van Gogh’s Bad Café and The Green Hour—a popular 2019 memoir titled My Young Life and countless short-form works.

A resident of the East Village in Manhattan, Tuten proudly states that he’s “been in the same apartment for 60 years.” While he doesn’t live on the East End, he spends considerable time in the Hamptons, emerging every summer to teach short story- and memoir-writing classes as part of the annual five-day Southampton Writers Conference at Stony Brook University’s campus. He also often visits friends who live in the area.

Frederic Tuten's "Sunday Morning for the Sombrero Family"
Frederic Tuten’s “Sunday Morning for the Sombrero Family”

Tuten has several literary and artistic projects planned long into the future. He plans to have another art exhibition at Harper’s next year and to release a new collection of short stories titled The Bar at Twilight. He’s also rewritten the titular story of The Bar at Twilight into a play, which he expects to be performed at the Manchester International Festival in 2023. The music is being composed by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Henry Threadgill, who Tuten describes as “the most important composer in America.”

Trying to list all of Tuten’s many upcoming projects would be a fool’s errand; the man is constantly writing, making art and planning for the future. “My dedication, my emphasis, my whole world now, is focused on writing, painting and drawing,” he says.

To learn more about Frederic Tuten and his upcoming projects, visit frederictuten.com.

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