notes on mark tobey

..white lines in movement symbolize a unifying idea which flows through the compartmented units of life bringing the consciousness of a larger relativity.
Mark Tobey on his painting ‘Threading Light’

I believe that painting should come through the avenues of meditation rather than the canals of action.
Mark Tobey


New Crescent, 1953

Carolyn’s been in my studio several times this last year. She’s said the same thing each time, You should look at Mark Tobey.

This Sunday morning while having toast and coffee I pick up a book containing essays about the artist’s life and work. I read it through to completion, finishing in time to start dinner.

My notes on Mark Tobey:

  • He died in 1976, same year as my grandfather.
  • After an evening at Marcel Duchamp’s studio, he leaves wondering if there is something greater than art. A few days considering this he realizes… love of God (it’s not God, it’s love of God).
  • He studies philosophy and is most connected with Bahá’í faith. In my opinion,  from the little I know about it, it’s a very inclusive belief system.
  •  He spends a month in a Zen Monastery studying calligraphy and art.
  •  He works on small canvas until about the age of 50…then he goes large.
  •  His mediums of choice: tempera and casein.
  •  Seeing  progression of his imagery … invaluable.
  • Journalists call him the Northwest mystic and the sage of Seattle. He’s not born there, and he sort of lives in many places, including New York. He gravitates to the northwest … mostly.
  • He’s an amateur poet and musician.
  • … White Writing …
  • …before anything else, a work of art should command attention as an energized object … but only be fully understood through familiarity with the experience and convictions that surround them…

After a few hours of reading, I almost get the sense that I am reading about a current artist who is reacting and responding to our 21st century.

He believes our society overvalues comfort, money and possessions, with a result that is mechanizing and dehumanizing: ‘We worship the young.  We wants so much muscle power for so much money.’  He sees a strange belief in the immortality of the body….We’re in the age of denial of everything but physical existence. The thing we’ve got to fight for is humanism – it’s the highest thing we know; we can’t mechanize ourselves out of existence.
Belle Krasner, ‘A Toby Profile’, The Art Digest, vol. 26, no. 2, 15 October, 1951, pp26,34

Mark Tobey, so good to learn more about you.

I begin the with his words and I end with the same.

Every artist’s problem today is: What will we do with the human? 


2 thoughts on “notes on mark tobey

  1. I’m glad you have discovered Tobey; he’s been a good influence on us all!

  2. I knew of Tobey’s work for sure. But I’d never read too much about his life.
    I looked at some of his poetry.
    I’ll see if I can find some of his writing about his own work.

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