Lot 433
  • 433

Mark Tansey

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
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  • Mark Tansey
  • Study for Push/Pull
  • signed and dated 03; signed, titled and dated 2003 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 48 by 56 in. 121.9 by 142.2 cm.


Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2003


This work is in excellent condition overall. The variable surface texture is consistent with the artist's choice of medium and working method. There is evidence of faint dust accumulation across the surface of the work, only visible under close inspection and under certain raking light. Under Ultraviolet light inspection, there is no evidence of restoration. Framed.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Mark Tansey unravels modes of perception and representation, continually testing the viewer’s eye. By adhering to the conventions of representational painting, Tansey encourages an instantaneous familiarity that he quickly subverts, raising an awareness of the fallibility of images. In Study for Push/Pull, Tansey culls themes from a litany of rhetorical sources and filters them through his distinctly surreal imagination. In the present work, a group of four explorers daringly cross a deep abyss in a desert landscape. One of the explorers is on a small unstable bridge, with her comrades and a few ropes supporting her from behind. In the far distance, their small boat rests on the calm waters. Upon further examination, however, all is not as it appears. Tansey divides the canvas into two competing picture planes – within the upper half of the canvas, this group of explorers precariously balance as they traverse the landscape, while below them a false reflection of an Egyptian sphinx looms even larger. The title of the painting Study for Push/Pull further emphasizes this intriguing conflict. The Egyptian sphinx, menaces under the Western explorers, no doubt underlining a history of conflict between Western powers and the Middle East. In addition to this political struggle, cultural blemishes are also referenced in Study for Push/Pull: the wide face of a woman in the background of the upper portion is Lizzie Grubman, a celebrity publicist who became the source of controversy when she reversed her Mercedes SUV into a crowd in 2001. Once again the figure of the Sphinx is starkly juxtaposed, this time as an archetype of ancient civilization contrasting a contemporary symbol of celebrity culture and excess. Tansey establishes a dialectic between competing understandings of cultures; one archaic and revered, the other rooted in the short attention span and thirst for controversy that defines contemporary America. Tansey variously references Hans Holbein the Younger’s The Ambassadors in his skewed rendering of Grubman’s SUV which echoes the depiction of the skull in the former work, as well as the silhouette of Rodin's sculpture of the author Honoré de Balzac as a shadow under the bridge, further complicating the narrative of the painting.

Underlying all of these references and hidden visual clues is the formal mastery of Tansey that marks him as one of the preeminent painters of our time. His compositional drama is formally underscored by the intense use of chiaroscuro and tonal gradations of shadowy azure blue. These striking visual elements create an overwhelming atmosphere that lends the work its striking immediacy. Evocative of the surrealist landscapes of Salvador Dalí and Giorgio de Chirico, who melted the space-time continuum by shattering perspective and confusing light and shadow, Tansey’s Study for Push/Pull harnesses a visual power that enraptures the eye and stimulates the mind through foreshortening and optical illusion.

The artist’s method of painting is excruciatingly time sensitive. Beginning by applying a heavily gessoed ground to the surface, layer upon layer of paint is then successively added to build up a rich surface from which Tansey carves and swipes away paint with a variety of tools and implements. Working within the six-hour time frame before his paint dries and becomes unpliable, Tansey operates under formidable time constraints, akin to the technique of fresco-painting. Through his additive and reductive method, Tansey takes on the role of draughtsman, painter, and sculptor. His images thus emerge from the monochromatic abyss by means of a constant process of wiping and pulling pigment away in order to render the painstaking details that fill the vast expanse.