Former boxer and building labourer Eric Tucker created hundreds of paintings in the front room of his terraced house in Warrington for six decades.
Completely self-taught, he painted the world and people he knew: the streets and pubs of north-west England. He depicted punters and revellers, the "rough and ready" as he would describe them, and was drawn to the surreal and the comic, and to "characters on the margins" with whom he felt a great affinity. He was a firm believer that it was among the "lowest echelons of society that the richest life was to be found".
During his lifetime he refused to exhibit or sell his work – but in his final year, he expressed a wish for it to be seen. Following his death in 2018, his family found more than 400 paintings, stacked up in every room of his house, in cupboards and wardrobes – and thousands of drawings, stuffed in drawers and old suitcases.
"My uncle painted all his life, creating images of a disappearing world he inhabited. He sketched almost daily, in the pub and in the street, bringing these scraps of images together into finished compositions, all of which he painted in the front room of his mother's council house in Warrington," says Eric's nephew, Joe Tucker. "He made very few attempts to sell or show his work – and few beyond close family knew about his art. Even we were amazed when we discovered, following his death, hundreds of paintings and thousands of drawings in his house."
As his dying wish was to have an exhibition, his family organised a show. "My dad tried to get in touch with the local museum but it came to nothing. So we decided to do something ourselves – I thought of the artist, Jeremy Deller, who staged his first exhibition in his parents' house when they were away. It struck me that my uncle's house was the perfect place to start – it was where he'd created every one of his 400+ paintings," adds Joe.
A few months after Eric passed, the family opened his house as a free gallery for a weekend, exhibiting his paintings alongside the room in which he painted them, as he had left it. "We really didn't know how many people would turn up," Joe continues. "We thought perhaps neighbours might take an interest, and I hoped we might get one or two curators to the private view. Then the story caught on in the press, and on the morning we opened a queue had formed around the block – a queue which hardly went down over the next two days."
In fact, over 2,000 people visited the show, with people travelling from all over the UK. You can see some footage of the exhibition here. Following the response, the Warrington Museum & Art Gallery agreed to give Eric a full retrospective.
Just over a year later, 'Eric Tucker: The Unseen Artist' opened at the museum and quickly became one of the most popular exhibitions in its 170-year history. Eric has since been hailed as an important discovery in British art and critics have likened him to LS Lowry.
What next for Eric? "The plan going forward is to hopefully further establish my uncle as an artist and bring his work to an even wider audience," says Joe.