"Harris Tuttle Contemplating the Basque Hog 'Homer'"
Tommy "Culture" Colter
Tommy Colter wasn't the only artist that Redbone, Arkansas spawned. His friend Harris was likewise recognized as a "Bumpkin Botticelli," and the two of them became fast friends. This painting by Colter shows Tuttle in his atelier, surrounded by the tools of his trade. He is shown seated on what he called a "Heroic Head of Aphrodite," which he had "with his own two personal hands" dug up from the ruins of Athens, Georgia, and believed to be a lost work of Praxiteles. Eventually it was pointed out to him that there is no record of Praxiteles ever having visited the United States, and that in any case the classical sculptor traditionally worked in marble, not poured concrete. From that point on he used the head as a stool, "soaking up the second-hand spirit of the Muse," as he put it.
Harris Tuttle practiced what he called the art of psychological portraiture. Before he would set line to paper he conducted extensive interviews with the subject in order to best capture the depth of personality, the nuances of behavior, and what he called the soul behind the mask. It should go without saying that this need for artistic/spiritual integrity was on occasion frustrated, particularly with still life.
In the painting shown here Colter has captured the intensity with which Tuttle is interviewing the Basque porker "Homer" preparatory to beginning his portrait. These interviews took a terrible toll on Tuttle. After five or six bottles of cheap wine he would be all ready to start, only to discover that he was face down on a stable floor or floating in a horse trough, sometimes in a different town. These setbacks did not deter him, although they probably account for the fact that he never really began any painting, or even a sketch for that matter. Several years after this picture was painted he was hired on as the town drunk in nearby Gutter Run, where he perished in obscurity.