Ralph Burke Tyree was an American artist who was the most prolific portrait artist of the South Pacific peoples of the 20th century. He was from central California and his art education took place in San Francisco. Seven weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor he joined the Marines and was soon shipped off to Samoa. Private Tyree was befriended by his Commanding General and became the Marine-base artist. His portrait career began painting the officers and their loved ones, while corresponding with 10,000 word love letters to his girlfriend Margo back home in Turlock, California. After the war he began his professional career. He traveled back to the South Pacific to live for years in places such as Guam, Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island of Hawaii. Often from there he would travel to other island paradises: Palau, Fiji, Tahiti, Samoa, and the Solomon Islands over his thirty-year career. Most of his first works were sensual island wahines in island beach and jungle settings. He painted primarily with oil on board but also occasionally on canvas and with pastels. To add depth and texture, he switched in mid-career to painting with oil on fine, French silk, black velvet. This was in the midst of the 1960s' Tiki revolution and many of his nude pieces would be displayed in Tiki bars and restaurants. Tyree was likely the most prolific South Pacific and Tiki artist of the 20th century. In the 1970s, he started painting endangered animals to call attention to their limited numbers. He died suddenly of a heart attack at age fifty seven in 1979.
In the 20th century after WWII, Ralph Burke Tyree led the transformation and appreciation of the South Pacific's serene beauty with his art. Furthermore he was the premier artist in American iconic movement of the Tiki revolution which emanated from Hawaii and California. He likely painted thousands of different pieces, initially oils on board, mostly wahines, au naturale. Starting in 1960 he switched to oils on black velvet with the portraiture nudity, more demure or sometimes a silhouette in a jungle scene.
Tyree was a dreamer who painted idealized women in idyllic South Pacific landscapes, the faces of wizened island men and later exotic animals. His portraiture, whether of humans or animals, captured their quiet, gentle spirit.