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The Works of Mark Tennant: An Ode in Oil to Rebel Youth

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

Tennant masterfully paints across time and culture to thread together a contrasted ode in oil to the rebellion of youth, girlhood, and Americana.

Oil Painting of a girl leaning on a monument.
The works of Mark Tennant: An Ode in Oil to Rebel Youth

A quick Google search of Mark Tennant and you’ll find a long and impressive list of accomplishments and accolades. He’s been the Director of Graduate Fine Art Painting at Academy of Art University, in San Francisco, where he started teaching in 1998. His art has traveled the globe and has been exhibited in the most elevated places in the art world. One look at the work of Mark Tenant’s hand and it’s clear why. We’re honored to have been given permission to show his work here. All rights to the work featured here are and held by Mark Tennant.

A young girl sits on a fridge while another stand in the open door
Oil painting by Mark Tennant of young girl sitting on fridge

Mr. Tennant is a master of movement and the human form in the context of space and time. Much of the artist’s recent work thrills in his ability to freeze a moment in time using all the properties of photographic imagery. Though much of what he captures on canvas carries the quality of motion halted in the flash of a camera...the oil scenes swing, hop, and dance with the exquisite motion of memories being recalled - a testament to the mastery of the painter. Tennant is able to pull off, not only the motion of a subject in a snap-shot but also the energy and flow of the greater context wherein the subject exists.

Many of Mark Tennant’s pieces shown here are an ode to contemporary rebel youth fully lived, interwoven with scenes of a more nostalgic - sometimes more innocent, other times more liberated - mid-century backdrop.

A young girl runs up the stairs in a white dress.
Oil Painting by Mark Tenant of a young girl running up the stairs.

The following is an edited transcribed excerpt of an interview of Mr. Tennant. The interview took place in 2017 on the Menorca Pulsar Podcast.

From the 'Mark Tennant 100% Noir Interview', Menorca Pulsar Podcast

Interviewer: You are quite an expressive artist, but at the same time you are quite accurate. So, how do you find that balance between expression and accuracy?

A mid-century woman sits on a couch with a plate on her lap, looking off to the right.
Oil painting of a mid-century woman, by Mark Tennant

Mark Tennant: I look at the accuracy as something I need to hang the artistry on. I'm afraid, I don't trust myself to get into something without having somewhat of a map or a plan. Through these principles; height-to-width comparisons, foreshortening, and measurement, I feel like that's just one aspect of all this that I don't have to worry so much about - making sure that that's all determined as well as can be expected. And then that leaves me at liberty to concentrate on the deeper, more subtle aspects of painting.

Girls go for a joy ride
Girls go for a joy ride - By mark Tennant

Interviewer: What do enjoy the most, starting or ending a painting?

Mark Tennant: Starting a painting is a very frightful thing [...] Until you get in there and mess up that surface a little bit, then it’s much more comfortable to work in. Ending a painting - I’m not even sure how that comes about....I’m not sure I know when it’s finished, how it’s finished.

Someone who had studied with Couture in Paris related to his students, that Couture had said to him something to the effect...he said: "how do I finish a painting?" And Couture said, "Call it finished."

So, when is it finished? I don't know.

Interviewer: Joshua Reynolds said that 9 out of 10 times working more on a piece doesn't actually mean a better result. Why does this mean [have] such a negative effect on some painter’s work?

Mark Tennant: I think he said that...provided it's directed toward the proper object. That's a problem for the artist […] I think he also said, "Nothing is to be denied with well-directed labor, and nothing is to be obtained without it." Well-directed labor...

Interviewer: And sometimes overworking a piece does mean a negative effect on a piece...sometimes we don't have to work it that much. You don't have to aim for perfection - sometimes that's negative.

Mark Tennant: Absolutely. No work can be too much finished. You know, your pencil, your brush, doesn't have to be moving the entire time you're working. You can spend a good bit of time thinking. A couple of minutes thinking and maybe one minute to execute. Three minutes weighing it all out, the pros and cons of a particular move, and then making the mark that you want. It may or may not work. You could scrape it off and do it again. You don't have to be constantly marking the surface. You need to be thinking about what you need to do to strengthen it.

Interviewer: Is there a point in which an expressive brushstroke becomes egocentric... like showing off?

Mark Tennant: Well there's all kinds of brush strokes. I mean, there are brush strokes that are showing off, but there are brush strokes that I found [...] look fast, that are not made quickly, as I study it more. There's a lot of brushwork that I think is about showing off. Then there are people like Chardin and Corot - the dignity of their brushwork.

Interviewer: How much imperfection do you think perfection requires?

Mark Tennant: That's a good one. I mean, there is no perfection. There is a great letter of Pissarro writing to his son, Camille Pissarro, and he said, "Perfection, as Degas would say...why not? Perhaps we can. Why not make that our aim? And there's plenty that would say that there is no perfection. There is only one perfection, the creator is the perfection and we are all imperfect. So I don't know, but I like to think of Degas from time to time.

Interviewer: Someone said that beauty lies on the right mistakes. Is it somehow that way - doing the right mistakes? It's not about avoiding mistakes, but doing the right ones.

Mark Tennant: I agree. Thelonious Monk, the jazz bebop piano. Do you know his music? In New York, when he was alive, there was this station that covered bebop really closely. They had a day of nothing but Monk, and this guy called in and said, "The thing that makes Monk so beautiful, is that he hits a lot of wrong notes." Then Monk called the station and said, "Hey, man. Tell that guy that the piano doesn't have any wrong notes."

See the full interview here.

You can see more of Mr. Tennant's work on his Instagram page, as well on his website.

Enjoy a few more pieces of Mr. Tennant's work below and on our home page.



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