With wit and irony, this painting reveals Mark Tansey's fascination with the nature of time, space, and painting itself. Against a mountain backdrop he painted four interrelated scenes: a small tribe of native Americans, an expedition of 19th-century surveyors and photographers, a group of tourists taking photographs and home movies, and a toxic waste-removal crew in protective clothing. Each scene is depicted from a different perspective. Shown here in the orientation preferred by the artist, the canvas can be hung in any of four positions. Tansey describes Soft Borders as a "short history of the West from four different points of view."
Tansey is an avid reader and collector of visual information found in magazines, newspapers, and illustrated books. His knowledge and reference library of reproductions shape the many preliminary drawings and collages he makes before producing a final composition. Once the planning is finished, the time actually spent painting is brief---several days to several months. Tansey's palette is restricted to one color applied over a gessoed (plastered) canvas. He manipulates the paint with brushes and a variety of scraping tools, removing pigment until the white of the ground is visible, much like daylight shining through the fog. The overall effect has the spontaneous quality of a snapshot, but the world depicted is invented and subjective.