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.
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).