EDITOR'S NOTE: Betsy Gilbert is an Oxford, Mississippi based writer with vast experience as an observer and seasoned storyteller. "Betsy," says Doc Lawrence, "finds the stories that seem to elude other writers. She knows her territory better than anyone. And our readers need to know that her middle name is Tallulah!"

Artist Eddie Tucker is what used to be admiringly called a rugged individualist. In a world where cookie cutter people seem to abound, he pursues his hopes and dreams on his own terms. He has strong convictions and opinions that he doesn’t mind sharing--a rare and refreshing quality today, when so many adhere slavishly to the politically correct stance du jour, lacking not only the courage of their convictions, but seemingly any convictions at all.

All attempts at stereotyping are fruitless. Upon meeting him in his office/studio/gallery for the first time, one is struck by how little he resembles the pre-conceived notion of a successful graphic artist or gifted painter, both of which he is.

No flamboyant, pastel fashion statements here, and certainly no gaunt, wild-eyed, paint-spattered artiste, just itching to explode or cut his ear off. Nope. The first impression is that of the Harley-riding, take-me-or-leave-me guy he is: a thinner Jerry Garcia lookalike, dressed in jeans and a well-worn tee shirt, jumping from an almost-finished canvas to an in-progress brochure design on his computer, wearing the two hats easily, comfortable in both.

A quiet man, Eddie opens up to strangers slowly and somewhat cautiously. It is apparent that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly—most likely doesn’t suffer them at all. In the background are the sounds of Nora Jones on the stereo. A quick look around reveals an impressive music collection, dominated by jazz. Not what you’d expect a biker to be listening to, but then again, Eddie Tucker defies the biker stereotype too.

So, exactly who is Eddie Tucker? Commercial artist for hire, passionate painter, Thoreau on a Harley—or all three? Getting the lowdown on a quiet man who’s not crazy about blowing his own horn can be a daunting task, unless the people who know him best are eager to open up. They are.

“I’ve known Eddie for 35 years and we’ve been through our share of ups and downs together,” said Walter Dawson, a former rock and roll writer for Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy, and presently working in the much less wild and crazy world of corporate internal communications.

“Eddie looks like a biker and I guess there are elements of him that fit the stereotype, but he’s much deeper than the image,” Dawson continued. “He’s truly a good guy, does all kinds of charitable work that most people don’t know about because he doesn’t talk about it. He’s also one of the most talented artists in the world, and completely focused, whether he’s working on a painting that comes entirely from his head or a corporate brochure. His clients love him and if you need proof, take a look at the number of private collections his paintings are in and all the corporate work he’s done.”

Well, let’s see. Tucker’s posters and paintings grace the homes of private collectors from Los Angeles to Milan, from Flagstaff, Arizona to his native Memphis, Tennessee. His work has also been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions, and through word of mouth, his reputation has grown over the years. He remains philosophical about the recognition.

“I’m not attempting to make any profound statements or reflect any particular passion other than the act of painting itself,” Tucker maintained. “Painting is a very personal experience and I paint with the intent of breaking up the canvas with form, intense color and motion to create a visual dance.”

The dance started early on. A Memphis homeboy, Tucker didn’t leave for the bright lights of New York or L.A. after graduating from the University of Memphis in 1970 with his B.F.A. He stayed put, taking advantage of all the local opportunities he saw and building a reputation as an art director and graphic designer in the ad agency world.

That decision paid off in spades, as evidenced by the more than 150 awards Tucker has won for creative excellence over the years. He put in his time in the agency business, finally serving as vice president and creative director at Memphis’ largest advertising agency for a decade before striking out on his own and hanging his Eddie Tucker Design shingle in 1991. For the first few years, he worked out of a midtown Memphis office. Three years ago, he bought a commercial condominium that’s sandwiched between the Mississippi River and Memphis’ famed Beale Street—a place that serves as Tucker’s studio, office and gallery.

From corporate identity to festival posters, Eddie Tucker is the go-to guy in Memphis. A poster Tucker created for Memphis Brooks Museum of Art appeared on the set of the television series “ThirtySomething.” Another, created for the Center for Southern Folklore, appeared in the Tom Hanks movie “Cast Away.” His 1998 W.C. Handy Awards poster was in an episode of the Starz Network show “Going to California.” In 2001, Tucker created the poster for the annual Notodden Blues Festival in Notodden, Norway—the largest blues festival in Europe. Tucker has donated his time to produce Handy Blues Awards posters for The Blues Foundation for more than 20 years. Stop in any number of blues clubs throughout the U.S. and Europe and you’ll see them. An entire collection of the posters can be found in the Warner Brothers Records offices in Los Angeles. They are coveted by poster art lovers, and those who own one or more wouldn’t part with them for anything.

There are commercial graphic artists who lack the talent or the muse or the determination to paint. There are gifted painters who could never succeed in the world of graphic design. Eddie Tucker is best of breed in both disciplines and he has the rare ability to compartmentalize like few can.

“Whether it’s a corporate project or a painting he’s working on,” Eddie is passionate and emotionally invested in the integrity of his work,” according to Laura Derrington, an independent Memphis writer who has been Tucker’s professional collaborator and friend for 20 years. And there’s something more, she confided. “I’ve never worked with anyone who is not just incredibly talented, but who has the ability to inspire other people and make them better. He makes you reach in and pull more out of yourself than you ever would with someone else. On commercial projects, Eddie looks at the marketing, the budgets, the needs and the audience and he still comes up with a concept and design that blows people away every time. He’s head and shoulders above anybody I’ve ever seen—on an entirely different level.”

Tucker has found enviable success in the world of graphic design. But that’s not enough to satisfy his passion for art. He not only loves to paint. He has to.

“Painting lets me escape from the linear thinking and highly structured world of graphic design,” Tucker explained. “My subject matter ranges from abstract to figurative, from abstract to satire. A photographic image might be the catalyst for an idea, or it might be a vision in my mind’s eye that I want to bring to life.”

Several months ago, Tucker’s unique vision turned to the family. After he painted a portrait of his own family in a completely unconventional, contemporary style, word spread throughout Memphis and he began offering this decidedly one-of-a-kind treatment on a commission basis.

The response has been enthusiastic. Take Memphian Barney Abis, who commissioned Tucker to paint one of hisportraits of the Abis family. It now hangs prominently over the fireplace in the family’s new home.

“This is much more a great piece of art than just a family portrait,” Abis said of the large and very colorful portrait, which includes Abis, his wife and three children—and the family dog. “Everybody who comes into our home loves it and they all want to know the name of the artist. Even the decorator we hired, who insisted we put all the family photographs in back hallways, said that Eddie’s painting belonged where people could see it.”

That kind of word of mouth keeps Tucker’s phone ringing. He’s a busy guy, but makes time for the things that matter—his family, the freedom he enjoys riding his Harley and the charitable work he does for things he believes in. One of those causes is the Memphis Food Bank, an admirable organization that lives up to its slogan “Feeding the Need.” Tucker has worked with the Food Bank for more than a decade, and most of that work has been pro bono.

“We insist on paying Eddie for things now, because he does so much for us, it just wouldn’t be fair to take all of it for free,” said Food Bank director Susan Sanford. “His relationship with us started with the Feeding the Need project many years ago and he’s been our resident ever since. Eddie is an incredible talent and this community is lucky to have him. He’s a true philanthropist because he doesn’t do this kind of work to have people say what a great guy he is. He does it because it makes him happy to help.”

Eddie Tucker has three distinct faces visible to the public: commercial artist, gifted, visionary painter and wild man biker. The other faces are private and carefully guarded, seen only by the man in the mirror and those he lets into his world. They’re the faces that are so intriguing.



Some links you might enjoy:

Eddie Tucker's website

Unique designs by Laura Mostaghel

Folk Art

Folk Art in the Big Easy

Reverend Howard Finster

The Florida Highwaymen

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