Mark Tennant's work is populated by a cast of characters capturing youth in all its raw and rebellious ways. Drawing influence from the likes of Velazquez and Rembrandt, Tennant's work is a fresh take on old techniques. The compositions are a portrait of our time. We can't get enough of them.
Mark Tennant received a B.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore, and an M.F.A. from the New York Academy of Art, in New York City. For the years 2008 and 2009, he was the Director of Graduate Fine Art Painting at Academy of Art University, in San Francisco, where he had been an instructor since 1998. Among other exhibitions, his paintings have twice been displayed in the Salon d’Automne, in Paris. He has taught Museum Copying at the Louvre, Paris, at the Metropolitan in New York, and the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.
We had the opportunity to ask the incredibly talented artist about his work, influences, and advice for new artists. Enjoy!
WHAT IS YOUR FIRST MEMORY OF ART?
My mother put a large stack of old magazines and newspapers on a table with scissors and paste. I was told to begin cutting out pictures and anything else that appealed to me and begin pasting it together in any way I wanted. I was very young perhaps 3 or 4 and I was confused and afraid of this project. She was not making a suggestion. This was part of that day's schedule and I was urged to begin. I cannot remember the outcome but I can still feel the sense of searching for a light switch in a dark room.
Who were some artists that influenced your work and you admire?
Comic strips as a child and Mad magazine - I tried to copy all of them.
As a young adult I was introduced to the Old Masters and the great benefit to be gained from museum visits - Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Hals, Velazquez - I tried to copy all of them as well I still admire all of them. I admire many of today's contemporary painters. I like all types of art.
What was the last thing you saw that really inspired you to create?
I like to observe people moving through life in different situations and in different locales. I really enjoy looking at automobiles and cinema, skyscrapers and the ocean.
What are some of the subject matters you touch on with your work?
Popular culture and history. Light functioning - Camera functioning.
When looking at your work, we see a connection to the old masters. Why is looking at the history of art important in forming your aesthetic?
"He who has laid up no materials can produce no combinations." Sir Joshua Reynolds
Are we born with creativity or is it something that is learned and nurtured?
I think it is something that one enjoys and if you really enjoy it you do it more often and get better at it.
What are some of the elements you look for in creating a good composition?
Balance / imbalance. Straight and curved lines. Value relationships. Going against the rules of good composition until it works.
What advice do you have for those that are just starting their artistic career?