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Mark Tansey’s approach to painting reflects a deep knowledge of art, as many of his motifs are either lifted from historical paintings or depict important artists and philosophers. Each of Tansey’s paintings is a carefully calculated allegory about the meaning of art and the mystery of the human impulse to make images. Rendered in a single hue, Tansey’s canvases achieve a precise photographic quality through a complex process involving the washing, brushing, or scraping of monochromatic paint into gesso. Tansey’s subjects are fantastic, sometimes surreal scenes in which intellectual theories about art are dramatized, often complete with portraits of characters drawn from the discipline’s history.
At first glance, Tansey's distinctive paintings appear to depict straight narrative scenes but closer scrutiny reveals an undercurrent of quirks and visual puns. By thus manipulating the conventions and structures of figurative painting, he creates corollaries for literary, philosophical, and historical concepts in visual allegories about the nature and implications of perception, meaning, and interpretation in art.
Tansey lives in a 2-storey 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.