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Mark Tobey

Mark Tobey

(1890 - 1976)
Born: Centreville, Wisconsin
Style: Expressionism
Famous Works:
  • Broadway (1935)
  • Universal Field (1949)
  • White Journey (1956)
From the tradition of Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Robert Ryman comes Mark Tobey's distinctive style of painting. He was trained briefly at the Art Institute of Chicago, and worked as a fashion illustrator, portrait draughtsman, and interior decorator. Tobey was exposed to the Baha'i Faith in 1918 and converted the same year. The Baha'i Faith served as Tobey's introduction to Eastern philosophy and piqued his interest in the relationship between art and spirituality. Tobey moved to Seattle in 1922, the city that would come to serve as his base of operations. While in Seattle, Tobey was introduced to Eastern calligraphy and took an enthusiastic interest in the discipline. Mark Tobey had an intense appetite for travel, moving and teaching throughout Europe and Asia, even spending part of the summer of 1934 in a Japanese Zen monastery. 1935 was a big year for Tobey, marking his first solo exhibition, and his development of the painting method for which he would become famous. "White writing", as it is now known, was Tobey's unique style of incorporating intricate webs of white lines. In these works Tobey eschewed form, allowing his brush to move freely and creating some of the first examples of the all-over painting style that Jackson Pollock would make famous. The dynamic surfaces teem in a complex rhythm of gestural marks of white and colored pigments. Despite its apparent connection to Abstract Expressionism, Tobey was not interested in the tenets of "action" painting, and discouraged any connection to Jackson Pollock. He felt that a painting should be a manifestation of meditation, not action. Tobey's spirituality drove his work for his entire career. His reputation soared in the 1950s when his work was feted in Europe, more so than in America. He was awarded the painting prize at the Venice Biennale in 1958, and in 1961 was given first prize in painting at the Carnegie International. Mark Tobey died in Basel, Switzerland on April 24, 1976.
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