Mark Tansey (b. 1949), Valley of Doubt, 1990. Oil on canvas, 87 3/4 × 144 3/8 in. (222.9 × 366.7 × 4.1 cm). Promised gift of Emily Fisher Landau P.2010.275. Photograph by Tim Nighswander/Imaging4Art.com
NARRATOR: Mark Tansey describes Valley of Doubt as a history painting about the history of art. The background features Mont Sainte-Victoire. The late 19th century French artist Paul Cézanne painted it dozens of times, searching for a way to capture the mountain’s essence in paint. Following Cézanne, the issue of how to represent the world, and whether that representation should even be a goal of art occupied artists for decades. Mark Tansey:
MARKTANSEY: It’s a question, really, what happens in the shade of Mont Sainte Victoire? What happens after? It’s the end of something and perhaps the beginning of something else. It’s a lull.
NARRATOR: The soldiers in the foreground symbolize avant-garde artists, struggling to find their way. A vast valley separates them from Cézanne’s modernist ideal. Rocks morph into letters, suggesting the challenging critical debates surrounding art. Tansey titled the painting Valley of Doubt.
Tansey has developed a distinctive painting technique. To create the valley, he spread oil paint over the canvas and then rolled rags across the surface, blotting up some of the paint. The viewer must strain to discern the image in the rich texture, making the search for meaning a component of his aesthetic.