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Mark Tansey – American Painter

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    Mark Tansey is an American painter. His parents were both art historians, so he started to learn about art at his early age. Those experiences had great influences on Tansey’s painting style. Most of his painting is monochromatic and describes daily or historical affairs. Although his painting involved many realistic objects, he is not realistic painter at all. There is always something behind what you have seen in his work. The first Mark Tansey’s artwork I have seen is from the lecture, named “The Innocent Eye Test”.

    In this painting, “a cow stands in front of Paulus Potter’s The young Bull,1647, now at the Mauritshuis, the Hague, while the human experts wonder if the cow can distinguish artifice from reality. ” (Metropolitan Museum) The painting is monochromatic, which is his unique and primary painting style. It seems that Tansey used realism in describing an experiment about whether the bull could tell the reality, but actually it is not realism. The audiences themselves are also in the experiment, and the experts want to see our reactions about the painting, which is what we think the bull will do.

    The potter’s painting could trick the animals, but Tansey’s painting could trick human beings as well. “What you see is what you see, was the slogan of Frank Stella, and Tansey’s demonstration is that there is more than visual, at least more than optical. ” (Danto) “The Innocent Eye Test” is more than about an experiment, it is a proof of the truth that painting is more than what meets the eye. “A short History of Modernist Painting” is one of Tansey’s well known paintings from his early period. In this work, there are seven rows of images which are broken up into fifty-two segments.

    All of the images came from daily affairs and some of the images are influenced by other artists, including Carl Andre’s laying floor tile and Jasper Johns’ target with arrows. From top to bottom, those seven rows are placed by the following themes: window, door, obstacle, ground, cover and uncover, self reflection, aiming and sight. Tansey made this work during his study at Hunter College in New York City in 1979, and it had a big influence on his painting. “The painting sums up the artistic developments of the twentieth century with a particular emphasis upon the New York School from 1945 to 1975. (Sims) I think there are several ways that this work could be interpreted, as the number of images in the painting is equal to the deck of cards or the weeks of one year, Tansey may imply that the history of modernist could be placed in different order just like the cards, or as the weeks of the year end, it could mean the end of modernist era. No matter what Tansey’s true intention is, “he obviously uses it in a way that differs significantly from the modernists he depicts. ”(Taylor) “One of the strangest paintings done in the last 20 years came from the hand of Mark Tansey.

    It’s an enormous painting, ten feet in length and over six feet in height. The painting is entitled the Triumph of the New York School” (Humanities). The subject of this artwork is art history, which Tansey was very deeply influenced by because of his parents. At first glance, it is painting of a historical occurrence that one troop surrendering to another. However, soon you will find out why it is a strange painting, the defeated army is wearing French uniforms, from the helmets and war-horse, we can tell they come from World War I.

    The victorious army is wearing American uniforms, from the photographer and armored car, we can tell they come from World War II. In the painting, there are also many interesting figures, “Breton, who was known as the Pope of surrealism is observed approvingly by the commander of victorious Americans, the art critic Clement Greenberg, champion of American type painting”. (American Heritage). You can also find some other key figures in the painting like Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko.

    It depicts the victory of the New York school painters over the School of Paris Painters. But what is behind the picture? “Greenberg stipulates that as an art evolves, it jettisons everything not an essential property of its medium. So painting discards image, narrative, illusory depth, and seeks a kind of absolute flatness. ” (Danto) By using descriptive painting style, Tansey contradicts the view of Greenberg and contrasts the victory has shown in the work. Just as the arena in the work is impossible to exist, Tansey uses irony expression to claim that the triumph of abstract expressionism does not exists as well.

    I began the research by searching online website. By seen many of his works and the descriptions, I found out Tansey’s work style, which is monochromatic and describe daily or historical affairs. I also learned that Tansey’s work style and education backgrounds are affected by his parents, who were both art historians. Then I picked three of his typical paintings to show his work style in the paper. The three gallery and museum websites I used, The Metropolitan museum of art, American Heritage and Humanities are all very seful for me to understand Tansey’s works. I learned from the websites that although he depicts realistic objects, he is actually not a realistic painter. Then I started to research in library to seek the deep meaning of his works. After reading his opinions and other interpretations about the works he did, especially Danto’s visions and revisions, I recognized that he uses monochromatic style because he wants audience not to focus on the format or the color of expression for his works.

    Rather he wants us to focus on think about inner world of the paintings, which is the essence of his works. Mark Tansey is a master of incorporating philosophy concepts into his narrative and fictitious scenes and leading us to think behind the works we have seen.

    Works Cited

    American Heritage “The artistic Triumph of New York” http://www. americanheritage. com/content/artistic-triumph-new-york Retrieved November 9, 2012 Danto, Arthur Coleman, and Christopher Sweet. Mark Tansey: Visions and Revisions. New York: Abrams, 1992.

    Print. Humanities Web, “Mark Tansey” http://www. humanitiesweb. org/spa/gai/ID/1216 Retrieved November 9, 2012 Sims, Patterson. Mark Tansey: Art and Source. Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 1991. Print. Taylor, Mark C. , and Mark Tansey. The Picture in Question: Mark Tansey and the Ends of Representation. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1999. Print. The Metropolitan museum of art, “The Innocent Eye Test by Mark Tansey” http://www. metmuseum. org/Collections/search-the-collections/210005185 Retrieved November 8, 2012

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