Tobey in 1964
December 11, 1890|
|Died||April 24, 1976
|Training||Art Institute of Chicago|
|Movement||Abstract Expressionism Northwest School|
Mark George Tobey (December 11, 1890 – April 24, 1976) was an American painter. His densely structured compositions, inspired by Asian calligraphy, resemble Abstract expressionism, although the motives for his compositions differ philosophically from most Abstract Expressionist painters. Born in Centerville, Wisconsin, he was widely recognized throughout the United States and Europe. Along with Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, and William Cumming, Tobey was a founder of the Northwest School. Senior in age and experience, he had a strong influence on the others; friend and mentor, Tobey shared their interest in philosophy and Eastern religions. Tobey is the most noted among the "mystical painters of the Northwest."
Mark Tobey was the youngest of four children born to George Tobey, a carpenter and house builder, and Emma Cleveland Tobey—his mother was over 40 when he was born. They were devout Congregationalists. Tobey's father carved animals of red stone and sometimes drew animals for young Mark to cut out with scissors. In 1893 his family settled in Chicago.He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1906 to 1908, but, like others of the Northwest School, was mostly self-taught.
In 1911, he moved to New York where he worked as a fashion illustrator for McCall's magazine and made some money as a portraitist. His first one-man show was held at Knoedler & Company, in lower Manhattan, New York City, in 1917.
In 1918, Tobey came in contact with New York portrait artist and Bahá'í Juliet Thompson (also an associate of Khalil Gibran) and posed for her. During the session Tobey read some Bahá'í literature and accepted an invitation to Green Acre where he converted. In the following years, Tobey delved into works of Arabian literature and teachings of East Asian philosophy. His conversion led him to explore the representation of the spiritual in art.
Tobey's arrival in Seattle in 1922 was partly an effort for a new start following his short marriage and divorce. When the ex-wife found Tobey's address, she sent him a box of his clothes topped with a copy of Rudyard Kipling's The Light That Failed. In 1923, Tobey met Teng Kuei, a Chinese painter and student at the University of Washington, who introduced Tobey to Eastern penmanship, beginning Tobey’s exploration of Chinese calligraphy. Tobey went to Europe in 1925, beginning his lifelong travels. He settled in Paris and met Gertrude Stein. His travels took him to Châteaudun, where he spent one winter, and to Barcelona and Greece. In Constantinople, Beirut and Haifa, he studied Arab and Persian writing.
When Tobey returned to Seattle in 1927, he shared a studio in the ballroom of a house near the Cornish School (with which he was intermittently associated) with the teenaged artist Robert Bruce Inverarity, who was 20 years Tobey's junior. From a high school project of Inverarity's, Tobey became sufficiently interested in three-dimensional form to carve some 100 pieces of soap sculpture. The next year, Tobey co-founded the Free and Creative Art School in Seattle; that autumn, Tobey went to visit Emily Carr to teach an advanced course in her studio in Victoria.
In 1929, Tobey was a juror for the Northwest Annual Exhibition. In the same year, he had the show that marked a change in his life: a solo exhibition at Romany Marie's Cafe Gallery in New York. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., then a curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), saw the show and selected several pictures from it for inclusion in MoMA's Painting and Sculpture by Living Americans exhibition, which opened in 1930.
In 1931, Tobey sailed on the Britannia to England, to teach at Dartington Hall, in Devon. There, he was resident artist of the Elmhurst Progressive School. In addition to teaching, he painted frescoes for the school. He became a close friend of noted potter Bernard Leach, who was also on the faculty. Introduced by Tobey to the Baha'i Faith, Leach also became a convert. Tobey's travels during this period included Mexico (1931), Europe, and Palestine (1932).
In 1934, Tobey and Leach traveled together through France and Italy, then sailed from Naples to Hong Kong and Shanghai, where they parted company. Leach went on to Japan, while Tobey remained to visit Teng Kuei, his old friend from Seattle, before going on to Japan. Japanese authorities confiscated and destroyed an edition of 31 drawings on wet paper that Tobey had brought with him from England to be published in Japan. No explanation for their destruction has been recorded; possibly they considered his sketches of nude men pornographic. Only a few sets remain in existence. Tobey spent late June and early July in a Zen monastery outside Kyoto to study Hai-Ku poetry and calligraphy before returning to Seattle that autumn.
In 1935, Tobey held his first solo exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. He yo-yoed from New York to Washington, D.C. to Alberta, Canada, back to England, and to Haifa to visit the principal shrine of the Baha'i Faith. Sometime in November or December, at Dartington Hall, working at night, listening to the horses breathe in the field outside his window, he painted a series of three paintings, ’’Broadway’’, ‘’Welcome Hero’’, and ‘’Broadway Norm’’, in the style that would come to be known as "white writing" (an interlacing of fine white lines). Tobey expected to continue teaching in England in 1938, but the mounting tensions of war building in Europe kept him in the United States. Instead, he began to work on the Federal Art Project, under the supervision of Robert Inverarity, the young friend he had met 11 years before. In June 1939, Tobey attended a Baha'i summer school and overstayed his allotted vacation time. Inverarity dropped him from the WPA project. Fortunately, paintings he had done on the project were included in a Works Progress Administration (WPA) exhibition that August, where they were seen by Marian Willard, who operated a New York art gallery.
By 1942, Tobey's process of abstractionism was accompanied by a new calligraphic experiment. In 1944, his show at the Willard Gallery in New York, with the catalogue prefaced by Sidney Janis, was a major success. In 1945 he gave a solo exhibition at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon, and the Arts Club of Chicago held solo shows of his work in 1940 and 1946. He studied the piano and the theory of music with Lockrem Johnson, and, when Johnson was away, with Wesley Wehr, who was introduced to Tobey in 1949 by their pianist friend Berthe Poncy Jacobson. Wehr, an undergraduate at the time, happily accepted the opportunity to serve as a stand-in music composition tutor for Tobey and over time became friends with him and his circle of artists, becoming a painter himself, as well as a chronicler of the group.
1951 was a busy year for Tobey. He showed at the Whitney Museum of New York; spent three months as guest critic of graduate students’ work at Yale University on the invitation of Josef Albers; and had his first retrospective show at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. In 1952, the film “Tobey, Mark: Artist” debuted in the Venice and Edinburgh Film Festivals. In 1955, he traveled to Paris for a solo show at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher in Paris, then traveled to Basel and Bern. In 1957 he began his ink wash paintings. In 1958, he became the second American, after Whistler, to win the International Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale.
The artist settled in Basel, Switzerland in 1960, and in September took part in Vienna’s Congress of the International Association of the Visual Arts on the topic “The East - Occident”. In 1961, he became the first American painter ever to exhibit at the Louvre's Pavillon de Marsan in Paris. Solo presentations of Tobey’s work were held at The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1962, and at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1966. The same year, Tobey traveled to the Baha'i world center in Haifa, then visited the Prado in Madrid. In 1967 he showed at the Willard Gallery in New York, and the next year, had a Retrospective show at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Another major retrospective of the artist’s work took place at the National Collection of Fine Arts, a part of the Smithsonian, in Washington, D.C. in 1974. Tobey lived for 25 years with Pehr Hallsten, in Seattle and Basel. Hallsten died in Basel in 1965; Tobey died there on April 24, 1976.
Tobey is most famous for his creation of so-called "white writing" - an overlay of white or light-colored calligraphic symbols on an abstract field which is often itself composed of thousands of small and interwoven brush strokes. This method, in turn, gave rise to the type of "all-over" painting style made most famous by Jackson Pollock, another American painter to whom Tobey is often compared.  Tobey’s work is also defined as creating a vibratory space with the multiple degrees of mobility obtained by the Brownian movement of a light brush on a bottom with the dense tonalities. The series of “Broadway” realized at that time has a historical value of reference today. It precedes a new dimension of the pictorial vision, that of contemplation in the action. His work is inspired by a personal belief system that suggests Oriental influences and reference to Tobey's involvement in the Bahá'í Faith. Four of Tobey's signed lithographs hang in the reception hall in the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing institution of the Baha’i Faith.
Helmi Juvonen, another Northwest School artist, was obsessed with Tobey. She was diagnosed as a manic depressive, and suffered the delusion that she and Tobey were man and wife, a point of misinformation which she shared with almost anyone.
Tobey's friend Elizabeth Bayley Willis showed his painting Bars and Flails  to Jackson Pollock in 1944. Pollock studied the painting closely and then painted Blue Poles, a painting that made history when, in 1973, the Australian government bought it for $2 million. A Pollock biographer wrote: "...[Tobey's] dense web of white strokes, as elegant as Oriental calligraphy, impressed Jackson so much that in a letter to Louis Bunce he described Tobey, a West Coast artist, as an 'exception' to the rule that New York was 'the only real place in America where painting (in the real sense) can come thru." Pollock went to all of Tobey's Willard Gallery shows in New York, where Tobey presented small to medium sized canvases, approximately 33 by 45 inches. Pollock would see them and go home and blow them up to twelve by nine feet, pouring paint onto the canvas instead of brushing it on. Pollock was never really concerned with diffused light, but he was very interested in Tobey's idea of covering the entire canvas with marks up to and including its edges. This had never been done before in American art.
- 1968, "Commander, Arts and the Letters of the French Government".
- 1961, won first prize, Carnegie International, Pittsburgh;
- 1959, became the first American since James McNeill Whistler to win the Painting Prize at the Venice Biennale
- 1956, elected at the National Institute of Arts and Letters
- 1956, Guggenheim International Award.
There have been at least four posthumous individual exhibitions of Tobey's work:
- November 11, 1997 – January 12, 1998, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. The exhibition brought together about 130 works from some 56 different collections, covering the years from 1924 to 1975.
- 1990, Galerie Beyeler, Basel
- 1989, Museum Folkwang, Essen
- 1984, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
At least five of his works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Northwest Art. Tobey's work can also be found in most major museums in the U.S. and internationally, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Tate Gallery in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Anatoma tobeyoides is named in honor of Tobey.
- Looking at Willis's collection of ethnic textiles, Tobey said:
- "A painting should be a textile, a texture. That's enough! Perhaps I was influenced by my mother. She used to sew and sew. I can still see that needle going. Maybe that's what I'd rather do than anything with the brush-like stitching over and over and over, laying it in, going over, bringing it up. Bringing it up. That's what is difficult."
- Speaking of the trip to China and Japan that preceded his breakthrough:.
- "It's been said I was searching for new techniques; nothing of the sort. I was really enjoying myself, learning to do things that interested me. When I returned to England, I was disturbed. I began to daub on a canvas and I was puzzled by the result -- a few streaks of white, some blue streaks -- looked like a distorted nest. It bothered me. What I had learned in the Orient had affected me more than I realized. This was a new approach. I couldn't shake it off. So I had to absorb it before it consumed me. In a short time white writing emerged. I had a totally new conception of painting. The Orient has been the greatest influence of my life."
- One of Tobey’s students in Seattle was Windsor Utley, who maintained a friendship with Tobey throughout the 1950s. Tobey wrote to Utley:
- "I really am sick of modern art really - it’s small pickins now. The best work seems to have been done in the early decades of the 20th century."
- The significance of Tobey’s religious beliefs in relation to his art is something that Tobey himself acknowledged on many occasions, including in 1934 when he wrote:
- "The root of all religions, from the Baha’i point of view, is based on the theory that man will gradually come to understand the unity of the world and the oneness of mankind. It teaches that all the prophets are one - that science and religion are the two great powers which must be balanced if man is to become mature. I feel my work has been influenced by these beliefs. I've tried to decentralize and interpenetrate so that all parts of a painting are of related value... Mine are the Orient, the Occident, science, religion, cities, space, and writing a picture."
- "Mark Tobey 1890 - 1976". Museum of Northwest Art. Archived from the original on 2007-06-23. Retrieved 2007-07-08.
- "Biography Mark Tobey" (Automatically translated from French). Retrieved 2007-07-08.
- Seitz, William Chapin (1 January 1980). Mark Tobey. Arno Press. pp. 44–. ISBN 978-0-405-12893-6.
- "Mark Tobey". Namen der Kunst. Retrieved 2007-07-08.
- Cornish, Nellie Centennial (1964). Ellen Van Volkenburg Browne & Edward Nordhoff Beck, ed. Miss Aunt Nellie: the autobiography of Nellie C. Cornish. University of Washington Press. pp. 134–135. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
- Modernism and Late Totems (1927-1932), Emily Carr: A Biographical Sketch, Vancouver Art Gallery. Accessed 8 January 2013. See also, Appelhof, Ruth Stevens, The Expressionist Landscape: North American Modernist Painting, 1920–1947, Birmingham Museum of Art, 1988, p. 60. ISBN 978-0295966915.
- Wehr, W. (2000). The eighth lively art: conversations with painters, poets, musicians & the wicked witch of the west. Seattle: University of Washington Press, pg. 45-55.
- "Review: "Mine are the Orient, the Occident, science, religion, cities, space, and writing a picture."". Vol 9, Issue 4 (One Country The Online Newsletter of the Baha'i International Community). January–March 1998. Retrieved 2007-07-08.
- collection Seattle Art Museum
- Pickles, Wendy. "Iridescent Light: The Emergence of Northwest - Art Delores Tarzan Ament, Mary Randlett (University of Washington/MONA)". The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities (ralphmag.org). Retrieved 2007-07-08.
- "Tobey, Mark (b. 1890 d. 1976) Mark Tobey to Windsor Utley, 1959". Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Retrieved 2007-09-22.
- Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, & Tobey, M. (1975). Mark Tobey in Victoria. Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, no. 2. Victoria, B.C.: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
- Kaiser-Strohmann, Dagmar. Vom Aufruhr zur Struktur. Schriftwerte im Informel, Exhibition Catalogue, Gustav-Luebcke-Museum Hamm 2008, ISBN 3-9807898-6-1
- Mueller-Yao, Marguerite. Der Einfluss der Kunst der chinesischen Kalligraphie auf die westliche informelle Malerei, Koeln, Koenig 1985, ISBN 3-88375-051-4
- Mueller-Yao, Marguerite: Informelle Malerei und chinesische Kalligrafie, in: Informel, Begegnung und Wandel, (hrsg von Heinz Althoefer, Schriftenreihe des Museums am Ostwall; Bd. 2), Dortmund 2002, ISBN 3-611-01062-6
- Restany, P., & Tobey, M. (1961). Mark Tobey; pragmatism in calligraphy. Paris: Cimaise.
- Tobey, M. (1949). Mark Tobey. New York: Willard Gallery.
- Tobey, M, & Thomas, E. B. (1959). Mark Tobey: a retrospective exhibition from Northwest collections : Seattle Art Museum, September 11 through November 1, 1959 : catalog. Seattle: The Museum.
- Tobey, M. (1964). Tobey. New York: Abrams.
- Tobey, M. (1981). Northwest visionaries: Mark Tobey, Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, Leo Kenney. Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art.
- Tobey, M. (1984). Mark Tobey prints. San Francisco, Calif: The Association.
- Tobey, M, Fryberger, B. G., Cummings, P., & Kays, J. S. (1990). Mark Tobey, works on paper: from Northern California and Seattle collections, celebrating the centenary of the artist's birth, November 6-December 23, 1990, Stanford University Museum of Art. Stanford, CA: The Museum.
- Tobey, M. (1998). Closeness of distance: Khmer sculptures and Mark Tobey paintings. Milano: Emil Mirzakhanian.
- Tobey, M, & Dahl, A. L. (1984). Mark Tobey, art and belief. Oxford: G. Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-179-5
- Wedewer, Rolf. Die Malerei des Informel. Weltverlust und Ich-Behauptung, Deutscher Kunstverlag, Muenchen, 2007. ISBN 3-422-06560-1
- Yao, M.-C., & Tobey, M. (1983). The influence of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy on Mark Tobey (1890–1976). Asian library series, no. 23. [San Francisco]: Chinese Materials Center. ISBN 0-89644-625-5
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Mark Tobey|
- Committee Mark Tobey
- Baha'i Association for the Arts: Mark Tobey, paintings and biography
- Baha'i International Community's One Country review: "Mine are the Orient, the Occident, science, religion, cities, space, and writing a picture."
- Mark Tobey at Artcyclopedia
- Mark Tobey at Guggenheim Museum
- Northwest Modernists: Mark Tobey at the Northwest Museum
- Mark Tobey Images and Information at Woodside Braseth Gallery
- Art by Mark Tobey in the Seattle Public Library's Northwest Art Collection
- Choay, F. (1961). Mark Tobey. [Paris]: F. Hazan.
- Cincinnati Art Museum. (1972). Mark Tobey: a decade of printmaking.
- Clure, M. M. (1985). Mark Tobey: Sumi paintings. Thesis (B.A.)--Whitman college, April 1985.
- Conkelton, S., & Landau, L. (2003). Northwest mythologies: the interactions of Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan, and Guy Anderson. Seattle, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma in association with University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-98322-1
- Contemporary Arts Museum, & Gonzalez, L. (1956). Contemporary calligraphers: John Marin, Mark Tobey, Morris Graves.
- Denker, D. H. (1973). The analysis of calligraphic movement as discovered through a study of primary and secondary shape patterns as suggested in the styles of Mark Tobey and Jackson Pollock. Thesis (M.S.)--Central Missouri State University, 1973.
- Herzogenrath, W., & Kreul, A. (2002). Sounds of the inner eye: John Cage, Mark Tobey, Morris Graves. Tacoma, Wash: Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art. ISBN 0-295-98274-8
- Rathbone, E. E. (1984). Mark Tobey, city paintings. Washington: National Gallery of Art. ISBN 0-89468-073-0
- Roberts, C. (1960). Mark Tobey. New York: Grove Press.
- Seitz, W. C. (1962). Mark Tobey. New York: Museum of Modern Art; distributed by Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y.
- Tacoma Art Museum. (1972). Mark Tobey.