Mark Tennant

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Feature image: Mark Tennant pictured, courtesy of Mark Tennant via Isolda Photography / @isolda_photography via IG

Mark Tennant

If you’ve ever spent time on the art side of Instagram, there is a good chance you’ve seen the work of Mark Tennant. Known for his ambiguous takes on portraits, the art of Mark Tennant has grown to become both a viral success and a cultural cornerstone in the art world. Art has always been a calling for Tennant, and his memories surrounding it go back as far as he can remember. As a child, he recalls looking at the Norman Rockwell covers for the Saturday Evening Post. It was at art school that he began to paint more regularly.

Mark Tennant painting
Mark Tennant painting courtesy of Mark Tennant

Tennant captures figures with an incredibly distinctive style in his art, drawing from a variety of sources, including pop culture and vintage photographs. Whenever he likes an image, he paints it. His painting style has captivated the hearts of viewers everywhere. At first glance, his paintings have an air of realism to them, but closer inspection shows that this is an illusion created through a masterful experimentation of value, with a focus on light and shadow.

“First for me comes value,” says Tennant. “That, to me, is the most important part, is the value, the lightness and darkness, and then the color needs to follow but value first.”

Mark Tennant painting
Mark Tennant painting courtesy of Mark Tennant

The juxtaposition of familiar and uncanny makes the work of Tennant something viewers can continue to come back to. Each viewing reveals new details of the work. Layered brush strokes create a textured look to the paintings and bring distinguishable features into form on the canvas. Each of his paintings begins with a sketch, and each painting finishes when Tennant feels that continuing to work on the piece could be “detrimental” to the work's overall effect. Knowing when a painting is finished is the great struggle artists have grappled with for centuries.

“That's an ongoing debate I have with myself and everyone else, I think too,” explains Tennant. From what I've read and talked to other people, you know, you don't know if it’s ever done; it may never be done. Da Vinci said ‘a painting is never finished, only abandoned.’”

Mark Tennant painting
Mark Tennant painting courtesy of Mark Tennant
Mark Tennant painting
Mark Tennant painting courtesy of Mark Tennant

Despite having such an extensive collection of work, Tennant doesn’t feel he could ever choose a favorite, comparing the choice to trying to pick a favorite child. Each completed work offers him a chance to move on to the next one. Tennant is someone who lives to work, explaining, " That's what I do.”

Though art is, by definition, his career, Tennant doesn’t view it that way. Art is his passion; it’s something he enjoys, continuously bringing him joy. His unsatiated desire to create is his continuous motivation to keep putting out work, with most of his day spent in the act of creation. He can’t imagine another life where he wouldn’t be painting.

“Time goes by, and I don’t even know where the time goes,” says Tennant. “The next thing I know, it's afternoon, and then it's evening. I don't know what I'm feeling when I do it; I'm just trying to make this thing work that I'm doing.”

Mark Tennant painting
Mark Tennant painting courtesy of Mark Tennant

Being able to see great art is just as important to Tennant as creating art; the two go hand in hand. Tennant strives never to live too far from a great museum. Some of his greatest creative inspirations are the painting masters of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Instagram has also developed into a digital art museum for Tennant. Not only does he have the opportunity to share his work with his 200,000+ followers, but he also has constant access to other images and art that inspire him. As he recalled moments as an artist that have stood out to him, he landed on a memory about his first visit to the Louvre in Paris.

“I came around that corner, and at that moment, I saw the end of the Louvre, and the sky broke open for a second, and sunlight shone on the front of the building’s two pavilions,” says Tennant. “That was a magical moment for me; it was almost like an enlightened moment. All of a sudden, I saw something that I had dreamed of, and it was illuminated before me just for a quick second.”

Mark Tennant painting
Mark Tennant painting courtesy of Mark Tennant

He encourages anyone wishing to pursue a career in the arts to go for it but understands that to turn this into a career is not a frivolous endeavor. When asked what the value of art is in this tumultuous world that exists today, Tennant answered simply with everything. To him, art is the answer.

Tennant is quietly on his way to being revered as one of the great artists of the 21st century, a title earned from his constant dedication to his craft and the betterment of his work. In a way, Tennant captures the modern idea of the great painters of the past with his mesmerizing forms and hauntingly nostalgic pieces. While Tennant may not have a clear-cut answer as to why this feeling forms, the mystery of why his pieces resonate with a modern, digital audience so deeply only adds to their power.


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