Sep 16, 2011

PROFILE | Mark Tansey

Mark Tansey, Apple Tree, Oil on canvas, 2008 - 2009


"A painted picture is a vehicle. You can sit in your driveway and take it apart or you can get in it and go somewhere."

–Mark Tansey

Currently featured in the Second Nature: Contemporary Landscapes exhibition at the MFAH, Mark Tansey's Apple Tree depicts a highly photographic rendering of flora in an outdoor environment. What at first glance may appear to be an incredibly altered, complex photograph is in fact a single hue of vibrant ultramarine oil paint manipulated into a seemingly photographic state, recalling blueprints and old scientific illustrations. I was recently fortunate enough to view Apple Tree in person at the MFAH. The blindingly bright blocks of ultramarine may appear photo-realistic upon first glance but, after closer inspection, one is drawn into the intricate, painterly strokes that together create the illusion of flatness.

Tansey encourages the viewer to question the reality of the images and invent their own narrative. Tansey creates a world where different realities mesh in the painting metaphorically through highly altered images and physically through his deceptive use of paint.  Although the subject matter is a realistic, almost scientific, version of nature, the artist creates a fictional world inside the work where several realities "interact and abrade ... within the medium itself." Heavily influenced by history and philosophy, Tansey sometimes uses blatant historical references. In EC 101, Tansey subtly weaves the faces of prolific economic theorists into a hazy, floating mountain side. In Snowman (2004), a snowball envelopes Karl Marx's visage. The face of Socrates and other philosophers form merge into a mountain in West Face (2004).



Mark Tansey, EC 101, Oil on Canvas, 2009

Mark Tansey, Snowball, Oil on canvas, 2004
Tansey creates collages through archives of accumulated clippings from magazines, newspapers and his own photographs. He then crops, photocopies, and digitally manipulates layers upon layers of images to achieve a preliminary design for his paintings. Although previously known for working in monochromatic schemes, Mark Tansey has been working mainly in ultramarine blue since his November 2004 exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery. Tansey's message is hardly straight forward. The artist creates an ambiguous world of illusion and metaphor, allowing the viewer to question and explore their own reality. By allowing his paintings' narratives to be completely manipulated, Tansey enables a fully interactive and unique experience for each individual.

"In a painted picture, is it the depicted reality, or the reality of the picture plane, or the multidimensional reality the artist and viewer exist in? That all three are involved points to the fact that pictures are inherently problematic."

-Mark Tansey

Currently, Mark Tansey lives and works in New York City. His work has appeared in major collections such as Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth and Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.

-Laura Knight

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