'I'm not doing pictures of things that actually exist in the world. The narratives never actually occurred. In contrast to the assertion of one reality, my work investigates how different realities interact and abrade. And the understanding is that the abrasions start within the medium itself' (M. Tansey, quoted in C. Sweet (ed.), Mark Tansey: Visions and Revisons, New York 1992, p. 132).
Expertly painted in the tonal values of cerulean blue, Sighting is an archetypal example of American artist Mark Tansey's ability to manipulate the conventions and structures of figurative painting to create powerful pictorial allegories. Recognised as a leader within a new generation of American painters that made a decisive break with the tradition of abstraction in the 1980s, Tansey has exhibited regularly internationally for the last two decades, and his work is included in major collections including the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Broad Art Foundation, Los Angeles; and Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.
Darkly humorous, Sighting conflates two iconic photographs: Mao Zedong swimming in the Yangtze River in July 16th 1966, and what was said to be the Loch Ness monster, the mythical creature believed to be living in the waters of Loch Ness in Scotland. The head of the Chinese political leader is clearly visible in the foreground of the picture, accompanied by two swimming body guards, while the long neck of the monster makes a shadowy appearance in the background. While the legend of the Loch Ness monster is one of the world's most popular legends, the occasion where the seventy-three year old Mao joined five thousand swimmers to cross the river is remembered as one of his greatest acts of political theatre.
Growing up in a family of art historians, Tansey's approach to painting reflects his profound knowledge of art and of philosophy. Deriving his imagery from a vast archive accumulated over his career, the artist appropriates imagery from newspapers and magazines, interweaving them on the canvas to form carefully constructed visual metaphors and puns. Tansey has stated that he thinks of 'the painted picture as an embodiment of the very problem that we face with the notion 'reality'' (M. Tansey, quoted in C. Sweet (ed.), Mark Tansey: Visions and Revisons, New York 1992, p. 132). Sighting questions our sense of reality by playing with our expectations. Painting in a single colour references the monochrome of conventional reproductions, as well as uniting two images and focusing the viewer on the ideas that lie behind the work. In combination with the painstakingly detailed realisation of the work, this signature technique gives rise to a deceptive 'realism'.