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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles

  • Exhibited

    Los Angeles, Gagosian Gallery, MARK TANSEY, April 19 - May 27, 2011

  • Literature

    MARK TANSEY, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles, 2011, cover (illustrated), pp. 44-57 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "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 is one of the most important representational painters of our current age whose brilliant abilities are matched by his ribald and wide-ranging intellect. The present lot, Tansey’s Hedge of 2011 is a true masterwork exhibiting all of the hallmarks so highly sought-after by the worlds most erudite and inspiring private collectors and museums. While each painting by Tansey is a unique universe unto itself, all of the best works capture realistic though fantastical scenes of staggering breadth most often set in the natural world. In these dramatized landscapes, Tansey is most often-illustrating highly complex art historical theories and arguments in a playful, but insightful manner. In fact, each of Tansey’s paintings contains a carefully constructed ode to the history and meanings of art and the uninterrupted human impulse to make and share images.

    The current lot typifies Tansey’s most accomplished paintings. Hedge is realized in a single aquamarine color, constructed in a painstaking photorealistic manner that in its elegance and simplicity masks the intricate labor required for its rendering. We are watching a master at work; using simple acts of scraping and washing of pigment along with subtle brushstrokesc Tansey is able to realize a fantastical mountain scape that seems to burst forth with icy resolution. But as often is the case with the artist, not all is as it seems. Cascading down the mountain is a massive avalanche that seems to tumble down from the sky, creating a violent whirlwind down the right hand quadrant of the picture plane. Tansey has resolved this violence in such a way that it is hard to tell when the mass of moving snow begins and the sky ends; or is it the other way around? Tansey is well known in the most important of his paintings to play with a perverted sense of symmetry, making down up and up down. If one were to rotate the image in any way 90 degrees our entire conception of the scene changes, but retains it’s gravity. Up can be down and down up in an endless seeming multiplicity of possibilities.

    While the central mountain remains stable in Hedge, each side top and bottom can be seen as the cresting peak, the flows of ice and snow becoming clouds and those very same clouds become snow. And yet, in what at first viewing is a landscape is also a narrative picture telling a story in snap-shot – in the middle left and lower right we see a series of Paragliders swooping and flying through the air. However like the landscape itself, the orientation of these figures is up for debate and destabilized. Each has a parachute above and below, calling into question the orientation of gravity and their direction of flight. The figures seem to move in two directions at once, further destabilizing our possibility of seeing and making sense. If the best of art tells us the stories of our age this masterwork speaks to a time without beginning or end, where all possibilities, outcomes and realities are contested and up for debate.

    It is in this destabilization where the true genius of Tansey becomes realized. As a viewer we are left to question our own faculties creating an iconic image that is timeless and gives itself over to a lifetime of powerful viewing. While a static image it seems to become alive in front of us exhibiting a wall-power that radiates and bursts forth.

    Hedge is both representational of the artist’s oeuvre while maintaining an exceptionalism that puts it in a class by itself. Brought to life in a luminescent ultramarine color that combines the depth and complexities of black with the bright lightness of blue, the canvas is reimagined as though it were an architectural blueprint. At first glance this impressively sized canvas is a straightforward mountain scene, an impressive peak bursting forth through cloud cover, conveying the strength and fortitude called upon by contemporary artists such as Prince or Ruscha – the human concurring of nature. Yet on further study Hedge is less about mastering than majesty. The rocky behemoth is rendered in its single hue in a photorealistic quality brought about by a complex set of painterly movements including the application of gesso and scrapping, washing and brushing of the ultramarine color. In its mastery of technique as well as the historicizing monotone construction the work builds in the viewer a deep feeling of awe. Tansey is not unaware of the feeling of awe at the natural world that this painting will instill in a viewer and it is the result of specific and reasonable series of choices the artist has made. This feeling of standing at the precipice – of getting punched in the gut by the power of nature in front of oneself is a subtle play by the artist towards longstanding notions of the sublime, most often illustrated by the iconic nature paintings of Caspar David Friedrich.

    The works of Friedrich, as in Tansey’s Hedge teeter on the edge of religiosity in the manner they are meant to inspire feelings of awe and belittlement in the face of the majesty of nature. This feeling of separation, of the smallness of self or of individuality, this type of fissure that is created in the subject is concretely linked to notions of the Kantian sublime. It is this almost emancipatory moment when confronted with the greatness of nature, and yes of a stupendous picture such as Hedge, that illustrates the sublime in physical, manifest form. Tansey’s best works are an investigation of the sublime and as such a true deconstruction of us as viewers. While Kant is best known as a proponent of the Sublime, it is perhaps Edmund Burke’s conceptualization that is best utilized to understand the import of Tansey’s paintings, as for Burke it is at the point of the realization of the physical limitations of the subject (or self) in the face of nature where-in the possibilities of moral, or spiritual transcendence are located. And it is in this location where-in the possibilities of painting and of art are located and it here where-in the genius of Tansey makes a laser-guided strike. For it is in the moment of awe where-in the self is most open to a radical re-imagination of what can and can not be and it is here that art can best realize emancipatory possibilities for individual and collective change. It is here where art enacts its timeless and enduring thrall, were it makes us stand in slack-jawed awe day after day in front of the most enduring images of our age.

    Yet Tansey—who grew up in a family of art historians—does not simply leave things there. Instead Tansey gives nature and our previous notions of the sublime a dark, violent, confusing edge. He is not content to allow us to take it easy; instead of the simple majesty of a vista – as in Friedrich or Prince or even Ruscha – Tansey allows the worm to turn. Once one is open to it, after the body, eye and mind has relaxed into the sublime via the historicized, naturalistic representation we notice that not all is right in this mountain vista. First there is that avalanche; the raw power of nature not just to awe but here to injure – to manifest the furious power of Mother Nature’s anger. The same powers that open us up to emancipation can also blind-side us, turning in an instant with nary a warning. Here the forces of gravity, ice nature and caprice build up a furious energy cascading down the mountain. As it is rendered in such photo-realistic style we at first don’t notice the massive scale of the avalanche, seeming to cascade down the entire height of the peak itself. There is a surreal, imposable quality here often found in Tansey’s works; yet as it is so perfectly rendered it seems perfectly natural and normative until we look closer. The photorealistic rendering relaxes us into a state of awe that is punctuated by the impossibility to reconcile the reality with our knowledge of the laws of nature and ocular sense.

    Hedge is a singular work that possesses an almost uncanny ability to throw our understanding of the world into flux, and it is herein, from which its superior power flows forth. By destabilizing us at an almost molecular level the work has the ability to open up new possibilities for us - to tell our most human and universal stories. Tansey is a true master playing with the history of painting and art and us a species that tells our most important stories through this medium. He manages to get us to question the most basic facts about ourselves and how we make sense of the world while at the same time seducing us with visual pleasure. He is the rare artist who is able to re-imagine our world, to allow us to re-imagine who we are and who we want to be.




oil on canvas
79 1/2 x 80 in. (201.9 x 203.2 cm)
Signed, titled and dated "Tansey 2011 'Hedge'" on the reverse.

$3,500,000 - 4,500,000 

Sold for $5,653,000

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