Tansey’s painting locates itself in the centre of the post war New York art world. “Action painting” is the name Harold Rosenberg attached to a style of painting carried out by the Abstract Expressionists, in particular de Kooning and Pollock. Like many of Tansey’s works, which combine an eccentric view of geopolitical history with movements in art history, Action Painting II depicts anything but the gestural abstraction its title names. The main action in this work is the liftoff of a rocket, while the less dramatic actions are the strangely successful attempts by a cluster of painters – Sunday painters, men dressed in work clothes, young women, etc. – to capture the event on canvas. Another dramatic feature of the composition is the insistent straight line of the flagpole at the left, flying the American flag. Action Painting II can thus be seen as an allegory of American painting and its conquest of space.
© Mark Tansey