The motifs that Tanguy depicts in his compositions are indescribable, protozoan inhabitants of a vast interior landscape of the imagination. Rendered in meticulous detail, these objects seem real, yet we know them to be non-existent. They bridge the line between the abstract and the figurative. Their convincingly modeled volumes cast dark shadows across the landscape, even while they appear translucent and incorporeal. They generally fill the foreground, where they may even obey, in a strictly local context, the laws of perspective. However, as the eye wanders into the distance, space dissolves and there is only a vague indication of where the horizon actually lies. In true Surrealist fashion, the forms of these compositions seem at once familiar and yet are utterly unfathomable.
Tanguy shared with the great 15th century Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch a taste for strange and inexplicable symbol-laden imagery, alchemical references, crowds of jostling figures, as well a careful precision in their rendering. A slow and meticulous craftsman, Tanguy loved objects that were beautifully made, and he imparted to the elements in his paintings the same care and convincing presence that a realist painter gives to a still life or landscape. These "inscapes" of the mind seem balanced on the brink between order and chaos. "The element of surprise in the creation of a work of art is, to me, the most important factor--surprise to the artist himself as well as to others, " Tanguy stated. "I work very irregularly and by crises. Should I seek the reasons for my painting, I would feel that it would be a self-imprisonment" (quoted in "The creative process," Art Digest, New York, 15 January 1954, vol. 28, no. 8, p. 14).