Summary of Mark Tobey
One of the most highly respected American artists of the 1950s and 1960s, Tobey's name is associated first and foremost with his so-called "white writing" paintings; a calligraphic style characterized by a field of intricate and delicate overlapping pale lines. It was a form of gestural abstraction designed to inspire a "higher state of consciousness" in the spectator and it would bring the artist numerous international plaudits and awards. Although in the US Tobey's mindfulness was somewhat "outmuscled" by the action paintings of Jackson Pollock, his push for an "all-over abstraction" gave rise to a spiritual style that amounted to a wholly unique visual language; quite independent of any one international school or location. Indeed, Tobey was a legendary wanderer who travelled through the Americas, Europe and the Far East in search of the influences that would help him refine his highly personalized conception of abstract painting.
- In 1918 Tobey was introduced to the non-sectarian Baha'i Faith and its idea of universal consciousness. Through its teachings, he developed a way to use meditation as a means of generating abstract shapes and gestures. The result was a distinctive visual language that could articulate a unified conception of life by combining Western art practices with the energy and wisdom of Eastern mysticism.
- Tobey worked largely in water-based media, such as tempera and gouache, and on small-scaled canvases and paper. His all-over abstractions, permeated with a multitude of lines and fragmented forms, captured calligraphic rhythms and gestures that broadened the definition of mid-century American modernism.
- From the very beginnings of his career, Tobey showed a passion for experimentation. Pushing the fixed rules of Cubism, he drew on more animate subject-matter using rich rounded shapes and a wider range of colour. The result was a form of "vitalism" that would push the great modernist experiment to look outside the realms of the physical world or any one of its great religions.
- In later years, Tobey devoted himself to the study of Zen Sumi techniques. By "emptying his mind" of all extraneous thoughts, he found the ideal mental state in which to paint and became positively liberated. By letting "nature take control" over his work, he produced a series of splashed black ink abstractions that demonstrated how art might exist independently of any pre-given aesthetic preferences or ideological influences.
Biography of Mark Tobey
Marking his opposition to Jackson Pollock, Tobey stated "I believe that painting should come through the avenues of meditation rather than the canals of action", and it was only through the meditative act that he felt able to truly "have a conversation with a painting".