HAPPINESS UNDER SUSPICION ***
The withheld expression in the art of Mark Tennant
Translate: Hélvio Moraes
Art has such an intense capacity for dissimulation as to become itself a fictitious field to express reality. Mark Tennant simulates everyday life but does not imitate it. The Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa wrote that “the poet is a pretender/ he pretends so completely/ that he even pretends to be pain/ the pain he really feels”.
In painting, the artist exposes the process by which art prevails over the portrayed scenes, which, for this reason, come to serve only as a model. Tennant evokes the extinct world of the American way of life. For dealing precisely with a consumption pattern, the artist creates the great dissimulation: he subtracts the expression of the faces to keep only the structure, the gestures, the frozen and expressionless pose. In these scenes, are the characters happy?
This was the question that assailed me as I examined “Dancing I”. The scene calls for emotion. However, the observer will be limited to observing the gestures of the young bodies, once the center of the composition is directed towards a young woman apparently absorbed in music. Nonetheless, the facial expressions that are so important for us to get a definite emotion are missing. In “Cake”, does the couple celebrate anything? It seems so. There is some drink, but there is no pleasure. They are posing mechanically, just like the meeting in “Dinner”. Is it a family? Will they be partying?
But it is in “Mirror” that Tennant most incites the observer. We have a young woman there who photographs herself. Usually, the “self” is made up of a good impression. The one who registers him/herself, in general, wants to express his/her best. The expressive emptiness in these paintings, however, requires us to make a complementary effort to capture the emotion of the character and the painter. Youth seems to wander aimlessly. By suppressing human expression, Tennant questions the model of life that identified prosperity with happiness.
How to solve the riddle? How to evade the labyrinth of expressionless faces? The key is art. The observer needs to be aware that he/she is facing an artistic reinterpretation of everyday life, of consumerism, of the contemporary. It is the observer who must complete the sensations, probably projecting his own emotions when making contact with a paradigmatic reality. Here lies the dose of generosity of the best artists.
Tennant’s incompleteness is enigmatic, keeping the works permanently open to new interpretation perspectives. If, in studying Mark Tennant’s art, there is more than one reading, the objective will be accomplished. By reviewing the historical model that established an ideal of life and behavior for the contemporary world, the artist provokes us indefinitely – are we happy?
*** Texto encaminhado à exposição de Mark Tennant em Moscou – Rússia.