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9/3/11

Osman Tyner 1932 - 1993



Born in Philadelphia to Roosevelt and Estella Tyner on December 5, 1932, Osman Tyner was a self-taught artist of impressive talent. His aunts recall that he began drawing as soon as he could handle crayons and pencils, and that he showed remarkable imagination at a very early age, so it was no surprise that he chose to major in commercial art when he entered high school at South Philadelphia's Edward Bok Technical School.

In 1951, Osman decided to leave Philadelphia and try his luck in New York City. He had yet to decide on a definite career path, but meeting Alvin Ailey in 1951 turned him towards dance. Ailey, who had yet to form his celebrated dance company, taught Osman the rudiments of modern dance for the following year and encouraged him to stay with it, but Osman was more critical of himself. Having danced "awkwardly" in an Ailey revue at the Waldorf Astoria, he concluded that his true calling was in the field of visual arts and design.

One of Osman's cover illustrations (1966)
Between 1953 and 1955, Osman had an opportunity to hone his drawing skills while serving as a Corporal in the 45th Armored Medical Battalion and at Fort Knox. His assignments were somewhat pedestrian, he recalled, laughing at the fact that his Army career culminated with his being promoted to "head of the sign painting department."  In the Sixties, when our paths first crossed, Osman had done some wonderful work for rights and review, the magazine published by C.O.R.E. (the Congress of Racial Equality). 
Looking back on a long life, such as I have had, I can recall a staggering number of people with whom I shared memorable moments. Some came to my memory to stay, others were just passing through, but that does not mean that they were entirely forgotten. It's funny how we can develop a strong association with someone, share a good slice of life with them and suddenly realized that we both have moved on to another chapter in our lives—what we though was permanent really wasn't. That is an experience I have had many times, but even people who dropped out of my life often left something behind, something that forever says "I was here." I say all this because Osman Tyner did not stay long in my sphere, but neither did he become another blurry figure. He had an exhuberant personality and whenever he came to see me, he was a burst of joy. I recall a time when I was applying finish to my living room floor and not at all prepared for a visit. I think I muttered a curse when the doorbell rang, but my annoyance evaporated when Osman burst into the room. He saw what I was doing and immediately insisted on helping with that chore. 

I don't recall how or where we met, but it somehow never mattered. Osman had a presence that made such things seem trivial. He liked jazz and he knew how deeply immersed in it I was, but I think we had known each other for several months before I found out that his uncle was McCoy Tyner. Most people would have made that fact known shortly after the first handshake, but not Osman—he admired his uncle, but he was self-reliant.

There came a time when Osman's calls and visits tapered off and the hand painted Christmas cards he used to send stopped coming. I did not know it then, but he had become a victim of the AIDS epidemic—it was a time when so many of us lost friends to this terrible disease, a timer when the medical world had not caught up with it. When it finally took him away, May 28, 1993, I had neither seen nor heard from him in ten years, and I can't recall how I learned the bad news.

Two of Osman's wonderful Christmas cards were never put away by me. For years, they flanked an old marble clock in my living room and had so much become a part of the decor that I would only have noticed if they disappeared. I want to share them with you, along with a third card that Osman called "Lady in Green." Please click on the images to enlarge them. I hope you  like them as much as I do.






Osman's work occasionally makes it to exhibits and auctions. I find the one below to be particularly striking—it was among his last and I  am indebted to Archibald Arts for giving me permission to display it here.

"Audience" — Osman Tyner 1993 (Courtesy of Archibald Arts, New York, N.Y.)