The compositional drama is formally underscored by the exaggerated chiaroscuro, and tonal gradations of shadowy blue create an overwhelming atmosphere that lends the work its striking immediacy. Light pours into the frame through the opening at the left of the canvas, filling the painting with shadows characteristic of Caravaggio’s pioneering investigation of light. Evocative of the surrealist landscapes of Dalí and de Chirico, who melted the space-time continuum by shattering perspective and confusing light and shadow, Tansey’s Study for Pit and Pile harnesses a visual power that enraptures the eye and stimulates the mind through foreshortening and optical illusionism. Tansey'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.
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