Mark Tansey, the son of art historians, explores the concepts of critical art interpretation through the visual metaphors of his paintings. The artist's photographic style of painting synthesizes images found in travel brochures, newspapers and art magazines into monochromatic pictorial allegories that challenge art history. The viewer is taken on a surrealistic tour through the history of modern art. Tansey is able to bind these elements into realistic representations that ultimately contradict our expectations of reality.
In Tansey's painting The Chess Players, 1982, the artist depicts Alfred Jarry, (the figure on the far left standing up), Marcel Duchamp, (figure directly to his right), and three French soldiers at the endgame of a chess match. Tansey has chosen to depict two Frenchmen, known for their provocative works that puncture conventional notions of the visual arts and theater. Jarry is the first prophet of the theatre of the "Absurd" and is famous for his "Ubu" plays which parody Shakespeare's MacBeth. Duchamp's work was grounded in his conceptual ideas about art that reject its basic premise as a retinal pleasure. The theme of the painting is ultimately about the revolutionary notion that arts primary arena is the realm of ideas not narration. Adding to the art historical riddle are the references to other works of the same subject by two French artists that were crucial to the advancement of painting, Cezanne's Les Joueurs de Cartes, 1890-92 and Duchamps Portrait de joueurs déchecs, 1911.
As Arthur C. Danto wrote, "Tansey has appropriated, virtually as an allegorical vocabulary, the looks that people and objects presented to one another as the visual currency of the times. His realities, then, look not only as if they could have happened but that they did happen, as a matter of historical truth" (A. C. Danto, Mark Tansey: Visions and Revisions, New York 1992, p. 16).