As Tuska Studio reaches out and continues to share Tuska's life and work, we are honored to have words from others to share. Selected thoughts are given below:
Words from Val Cushing, Professor Emeritus, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University
"Now that I've had the opportunity to see the full range of Tuska's work, I have no doubt at all, that Tuska is one of the important figures in art, at this time. The range of his work is truly awesome. I see drawing as the absolute heart of visual art, whether it becomes sculpture or painting or ceramics, drawing somehow pulls everything together. But Tuska has approached drawing in the sense of a renaissance master. That he is able to draw in ways that are eloquent and descriptive beyond the way that many of us use drawing, which is a way to think into a structure. Tuska has also made drawing a sort of an end in point. And then he's done the same thing with many media. Tuska did not attempt the kind of self promotion that allows people in a nation, world wide sense, to be aware of who you are as an artist. I think that will come to Tuska through the efforts of his son and others to present Tuska's work to a wider audience because it absolutely, in quality, is among the finest work I know. I see . . . the only difference is that the art world is not as aware of this artist as I think they will become."
Words from William Hull, Retired Director, Penn State University Museum, on the Tuska-25 Year Retrospective 1989:
As I write this essay I am studying a group of small vessels ranging from five to ten inches in height. All were made by John Tuska in 1985 and 1986. The thought of a written description of them seems impossible. They are not quite like any forms I have encountered in a lifetime of observing and handling ceramic objects. It would be like trying to describe the six persimmons by Mu-chi, that elusive Sung Dynasty master of Ch'an painting, or a nude by Jose Vermeersh, the Belgian sculptor whose work seems to change each time one looks at it.
Perhaps it is the pulsating quality of these little works-the artist terms them "pod forms" - that defines their character. It seems that they might move if one looks away. This may be the key to their vitality, each seems to hold something within. All are formed by hand from very thinly rolled slabs of porcelain or stoneware in an amazing variety of colored clays and glazes ranging from lustrous gunmetal to a variegated sang de beouf and white. Their surfaces are complex and they demand to be held.
These forms were made while the artist was recovering form open-heart surgery and could best express himself in intimate terms on a small scale. No wonder they are so vibrant. Their maker had been close to the edge of life and they seem to celebrate both the profound energy of the heart and germinal quality of seed cases. Having noted their size, it is necessary to add that these works are also monumental. One can imagine them twenty to thirty feet high standing in Battersea Park in London where an outdoor sculpture show is remembered form 1951- or in the reflecting pool at Lincoln Center. In a very real sense, they are a synthesis of the artist's oeuvre.
John Tuska is an artist in several media, and if one were writing about the man in apolitical context he might be termed an artist without portfolio. I regard him primarily as a potter; but he is also a sculptor, a collagist, a draftsman, and a designer. Throughout this awesome range of work that might be termed "enclosure." From his earliest pottery to his current work there is a sense of volume enclosed, a feeling of a fully rounded resolution.
The artist's "Penn State Wall," a series of incised ceramic panels depicting three models in varying poses, expresses volume through drawing. The lines are incised in the soft clay and the subtleties of the width and depth of the incisions work both on the surface and in the round.
Like his art, John Tuska is a man of depth and subtlety. It couldn't be otherwise, of course, since works of art speak to the perceptive viewer of the being that produced them. A career history elsewhere in this catalogue provides essential factual background on the artist, but perhaps a few observations will provide some further insights. John Tuska was the eighth and only male of ten children born to John Michael and Cecilia Kuzma Tuska in Yukon, Pennsylvania. During the Depression, when John was seven, the mine in which his father worked was closed and the family moved to a flat in Brooklyn. Electricity, city traffic, and running water, albeit cold, are the major sensations remembered from this traumatic move. John soon discovered Prospect Park, the trolley (at three cents a ride he could explore his new milieu by riding to ends of the line), and the subway. By the time of his enrollment in the High School of Music and Art his voracious appetite for reading had led him into the worlds of Thomas Wolfe, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot-masters of verbal symbolism. He regarded the teachers at school as imaginative and , since students enjoyed passes to the Museum of Modern Art, treasured frequent visits there.
Following his first year at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, John saw 48 months of services in the Navy where he achieved the rank of Chief Petty Officer, 2nd Class, in public relations. The latter part of his naval career was spent in mufti in Tokyo and there he was exposed to the work of the great Japanese potters through exhibitions in the galleries of the major department stores. This led to travels to the studios of Rosanjin, Kawai, Hamada, and other major figures in Japanese ceramics. Doubtless, he also discovered that the art of the potter was the most respected of the arts in that society. He returned to his studies at Alfred with a remarkable and mature background for an undergraduate. His teaching skills developed too, when, as an MFA candidate, he taught up to twenty contact hours per week during the academic year and summer session.
The years of teaching at the University of Kentucky have honed that talent to an acute degree. He now accepts few students into his classes; indeed, there are few who are willing to undergo the rigorous routines of his studio. Tuska is a very disciplined artist and is particularly concerned with developing his student's ability to discipline themselves. Persistence, energy, and drive are the attributes he seeks in his students, and he insists on strong drawing technique to develop conceptualization skills. Either his students learn this form of visual thinking or they are asked to leave his class.
The artist's own sketchbook convey his thinking; they are rich mines of perception and his most basic discipline. It is, of course, both this discipline and depth of perception that sets Tuska aside from those artists of vast style and little substance who dominate the American art scene today.
Travels here and abroad have been valuable additives in a life filled with close observation. A sabbatical leave spent in Italy during 1969-70 was seminal in the artist's work with the human figure. He still terms it his glorious year and avers that the whole Italian experience did more for his thoughts on the figure than did any comparable time. Though he worked primarily in bronze during this year, he considered other media that would be adaptable to further probe the portrayal the human figure. Some of Tuska's most stunning work, for example, had grown out of his experiments with cast paper.
The future holds intriguing possibilities as well. A commission to embellish the entrance of the Fine Arts Building at the University had been undertaken by the artist. As presently envisioned, it will consist of a cast bronze screen. The artist has asked that selected protégés be paid to work with him in order to give them a sense of worth and experience with a major project.
A statement in Odyssey, a University of Kentucky research magazine, by Irwin Pickett, Director of Visual Arts at the Kentucky Department of the Arts, seems particularly appropriate and certainly bears repetition with regard to John's work. Pickett states, "(due to) his unique and positive outlook and his incredible talent and energy to see beyond and within...he is able to extract and consistently produce work that exists quite simply on its own."
Therein lies a secret of Tuska's success. Work that exists quite simply on its own is an anomaly in American art today. So much of today's art depends on references to other artists. Because such artists provide only part of an idea, so much of today's art seems bland, mass-produced, and dehumanized, seldom rising above cleverness. In this context it is refreshing to view the art of John Tuska, who deals with the complexities and depth of his subject and not merely with its surface.
Words from Tuska biographer, David Burg:
"Michelangelo of the Midwest", an exaggeration? John Regis Tuska came as close to being a genuine renaissance artist as any American of his time. His body of work not only encompassed diverse media but also evidenced exceptional quality and prolific output in each. This story will focus on Tuska's achievement as an artist and an educator. It will place his life and work in historic context."
Words from Bill Marshall, Director, University of Kentucky Special Collection Archives
On The Dedication of the Tuska Papers, April 26, 2004
John Regis Tuska's art-his ceramics, drawings, and sculpture-are all around us; housed in private collections, in museums, and in public places. Tuska's artwork provides us with clues about his identity as an artist and a person, but only by studying his archives-his notebooks, diaries, still photographs, slides, correspondence, and memorabilia-are we able to begin to understand the creative spirit behind the artist's drive. These primary source materials provide invaluable insights into Tuska's thought process, his perceptions, and the events which shaped his life and influenced his art. This remarkable archive is a rare and important acquisition for the University of Kentucky Libraries. Not only will these papers enrich the legacy of Tuska, they will also serve as grist for future research. We have few archival collections in the area of fine arts that can match the Tuska archive in the quality of its contents.
Words from Ellen Deaton, Marketing Director for Arts Across Kentucky Magazine:
A close examination of the lifetime achievements of American Artist John Regis Tuska might lead one to believe that, beyond his extraordinary art that was at all times changing and expanding, he was a man ever reaching, ever questioning, never satisfied. That he drew brilliantly from past masters…most prominently from those artists of the Renaissance period and, interestingly, the Cubist period…is obvious yet he seems to have used those tenets of art only to expand his own. Beyond the legacy of the astounding creations left by Tuska are his profound philosophies and reaching that he bequeaths to posterity. To whichever art category Tuska is relegated by current or future critics, his works are that of a master and should be considered one of the greats of the last Millennium.
Words from Phyllis Weston, Director Closson's Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio
"We were honored to have the works from Tuska Studio representing the life of American Artist John Regis Tuska. This was one of the finest shows Closson's has represented during my 40 years of service with them. I should think any discerning museum or gallery would welcome the opportunity to share in this man's life and work. The clarity of Tuska's profound and various expressions of the human form, places him within the pantheon of those Renaissance masters who came before him."
Words from a student:
"Tuska's art communicates a passionate longing for clearly understanding life and everything around him. The viewers are unable to avoid sensing the torment and genius of a man who was driven by expansion. Compelled by a creative force within him, he continually broke the mold and pushed the envelope, while creating visual depictions of the process he went through internally. During mind expanding periods in his life the art was frantically progressive and glowing with radiant energy. John Tuska filled every piece of work with a spirit of constant learning and eagerly responding to all he took in. He was a man who displayed an undeniable passion for the human body, mind, and soul, and our community has been blessed with his art. It would be an unfortunate loss if his work were never to touch as many people as it has the ability to."