Friday, April 15, 2011

Mark Tansey - Rifts and Resonances

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)

Mark Tansey, Pleasure of the Text, 1986

One would have to be like a taxi, a waiting line, a line of flight, a bottleneck, a traffic jam, green and red lights, slight paranoia, difficult relations with the police. Being an abstract and broken line, a zigzag, that slips 'between'. (Deleuze/Parnet, Dialogues)

 Mark Tansey, Doubting Thomas, c. 1985

Mark Tansey was born in San Jose, California in 1949. His parents were both art historians, so he had an early introduction to art. These early childhood experiences had a profound effect on Tansey's painting style from the inception of his career as an artist. From the time he was a young child, Mark Tansey knew that he wanted to continue the family tradition and pursue a future in the art industry. He attended Saturday art classes at the San Francisco Art Institute in his early teen years and made a habit of regularly visiting art museums in the area. Beginning in 1969, Tansey spent three years studying at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. 

Mark Tansey, The Innocent Eye Test, 1981

After graduating, Tansey worked as an assistant at the San Jose State University Gallery. In 1974, Tansey enrolled in the graduate program at Hunter College in New York City. He spent four years studying there. While attending Hunter College, he made a scale reproduction of part of his textbook, The Structure of Art, in acrylic on paper. He also painted a series of ten by ten inch pieces that analyzed methods of representation and illusion through differences in perspective. He filled notebooks with human gestures and made collages of magazine clippings and book pages. These he organized into files centering on specific themes and has covered over 125 themes thus far. When looking for inspiration for new paintings, he references these notebooks and works from them.

Mark Tansey, Take One, 1982

Tansey acquired a two story studio in downtown New York City and works there from late afternoon throughout the night almost every day. The first floor of his studio is reserved for final paintings only, while the second floor is where he creates all of the preparatory sketches and variations that inspire his completed works. He derives his inspiration from photographic reproductions and magazine clippings, and works in stages of small sketches and drawings until he is prepared for the final painting.

Mark Tansey, Judgement of Paris, 1982

Many of Tansey's paintings are monochromatic and seem old-fashioned. Tansey lays down a layer of monochrome pigment on canvas that can be altered easily only before it dries. This leaves him only about a six hour window in which to complete his alterations. As such, he works in a style similar to fresco painters, painting in segments that he can finish in this short time frame. Tansey creates his images by pulling away and wiping pigment, so that various textures and tones are produced on the canvas. He adds pigment to darken certain areas; and when he wipes away pigment, the white of the canvas shows through the thin layer of paint to lighten the area. 

Mark Tansey, Achilles and the tortoise, 1986

Mark Tansey - On rift and resonance: "In my earlier work I was trying to learn how to bring meaning to the image, and was having difficulty activating the figure and image as a whole. Magritte's eight methods of bringing about the crisis of the object isolation, modification, hybridization, scale change, accidental encounters, double image puns, paradox, double viewpoints in one came as a revelation. It made it apparent to me that crises and conflicts were results of oppositions and contradictions and these were what was necessary to activate or motivate a picture. Magritte's work also led me to wonder if crisis could take place on other levels of content, more quietly, internally, more plausibly." (Arthur C. Danto, Mark Tansey: Visions and Revisions)

Mark Tansey, Action Painting II, 1984

Mark Tansey - On the value of illustration: "If in paintings there have been problems in linking image and idea, one key may be found buried deep in the practice of illustration. Illustration, having been banished from high art as commercial and slavish to an assigned message, nevertheless is where art begins. The only significant difference that I can find at this point between illustration and art is that the former traditionally involves doing someone else's idea rather than one's own." (Arthur C. Danto, Mark Tansey: Visions and Revisions)

Mark Tansey, Westface, 2004

Upon closer examination, hidden imagery appears in unexpected places. The snowball in Snowman doubles as Karl Marx's head, turned on its side; Nietzsche's portrait emerges from the mountainside in West Face (above); an anamorphic portrait of James Joyce is contained within the wake of a speeding boat in Wake. In such paintings, figures and landscape are interchangeable as images merge and recede, only to reappear again. 

 Mark Tansey, EC 101, 2009

In EC 101 Tansey traces the lineage of economic theory by inscribing human faces into a creviced mountain, a structural device that recalls his earlier use of landscape to blur the traditional distinction between figure and ground. At the top of the mountain are classical economists such as David Hume, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill while the heterodox economists such as Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin, and John Maynard Keynes are at the base. In a parallel narrative, Dante and Virgil stand in the lower half of this painting, which is a reversed image of the mountain.

Mark Tansey, Duet, 2004

Tansey has painted his most recent works in ultramarine, a color that combines the depth and complexities of black with the lightness and transparency of blue and which imparts the feel of now-obsolescent blueprint.  Rendered in a single hue, his paintings have a precise photographic quality that is reminiscent of scientific illustration, achieved by applying gesso then washing, brushing and scraping paint into it.

 Mark Tansey, Forward Retreat, 1986

In his painting Forward Retreat (above), Tansey uses red tones that elicit images of blood and danger. It lends a certain urgency to the battle that is not actually depicted in the painting itself. In fact, the scene's composition, which shows the soldiers reflected in a shallow pool, has an air of mild serenity. This juxtaposition of danger and battle with the contradictory serenity of still water heightens the meaning of the red painting. 

Mark Tansey, The Key, 1984

Archangel Michael in the upper left reminded me at Inferno, VII Canto:

Not causeless is this journey to the abyss;
Thus is it willed on high, where Michael wrought

Vengeance upon the proud adultery."

Mark Tansey, Derrida Queries de Man, 1990
"What seest thou else In the dark backward and abysm of time?" "The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." (Shakespeare, The Tempest)

Mark Tansey, Robbe-Grillet Cleansing Every Object in Sight, 1981 

“La fonction de l'art n'est jamais d'illustrer une vérité, ou même une interrogation. Elles est de mettre au monde des interrogations, qui ne se connaissent pas encore elles-mêmes.” (Alain Robbe-Grillet)

 Mark Tansey, Still Life 

"Life is a matter of description and re-description and it has no meaning, apart from the metaphor you happen to be using at any given time." (Richard Rorty)

 Mark Tansey, A Short History of Modernist Painting, 1982 

"Metaphoric redescription (Richard Rorty's term) is a function that is becoming increasingly interesting in light of the inadequacies of the term "representation," in that pictures don't actually represent anything." (Mark Tansey) 

Mark Tansey, Purity Test, 1982

Indians on houseback gaze down at Robert Smithson's earth sculpture Spiral JettySmithson had sought to create a pure image. The Indians, unware of the spiral's function as a work of art, attempt to decipher it as a symbol.

Tansey has a process for generating ideas for his paintings. Part of this process involves his “wheels”. The wheel consists of three concentric circles on a center pivot. Each circle is labeled with words in such a way that one can spin the wheels and come up with phrases formed from the combination of the three circles’ words. The most lavish wheel, a large wooden table with a lazy susan-like top, has 180 entries on each of is three rings. From the inside out the words are nouns, participles, and objects, which lead us to phrases such as: “Borgesian cartographers redeploying jouissance” or “stock characters suspending disbelief in unshakable foundations”. The wooden table wheel allows for over 5 million possible phrases. Tansey then takes the created phrases and categorizes them as “motifs”, “oppositions”, “problems”, etc. on a grid creating juxtapositions and further combinations to use as ideas for new or ongoing works.

 Mark Tansey, Triumph of the New York School, 1984

The right side features such NY art figures as Greenberg, Pollack, Rothko, etc., in army uniforms around army vehicles. On the left side, Andre Breton’s back is turned to us (he is signing the treaty of surrender), Picasso is the one in the fur coat, while Duchamp stands rather aloofly, hands in pockets.

Mark Tansey, Mount Sainte-Victoire, 1987

In Mount Sainte-Victoire the soldiers of poststructuralism and deconstruction - Jean Baudrillard, Barthes, and Derrida - disrobe in the shadow of Cézanne's Mount Sainte-Victoire. Shedding their uniforms, they are transformed in their reflections into women. The men on the shore are flanked by the arching trees of Cézanne's 1906 Bathers.

Mark Tansey, Triumph Over Mastery

 Mark Tansey, Discarding the frame

1 comment:

  1. In "Forward Retreat" did you notice that the soldiers are on their horses backwards? Could say something about the act of battle in itself, no?