Mark George Tobey Biography

Mark George Tobey




The American painter, poet and composer Mark Tobey was born in Centerville, Wisconsin on December 11, 1890. In 1906 he began studying watercolor and oil painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. He then got commercial work drawing models in Chicago and, in 1911 in New York. In 1918 Tobey converted to Bahaism. The Persian belief system had a great impact on both his life and his art.

After moving to Seattle, Washington he worked as an art teacher at the Cornish School in Seattle between 1922 and 1925. He became interested in European Cubism and East Asian painting and calligraphy, and began to collect the Northwestern art of the Tlinkit and Haida Indians, especially textiles and wooden sculptures.In 1925 Tobey traveled to Europe and after living in Paris for some time he visited Barcelona, Athens, Istanbul and Beirut, and made a pilgrimage to the holy site of Bahá'í in Haifa, Israel. He also visited studied Persian and Arabian calligraphy. He had his first one-man show in Chicago in 1928. From 1930 to 1937 he taught at the Dartington Hall School in Devonshire, England.

His journeys played an important role in Tobey's life and imagery. In 1932 he traveled to Mexico and in 1934 to China and Japan - where he studied the teachings and paintings of Zen, the Hai-Ku poetry and also calligraphy in a monastery in Kyoto. The effects of these journeys can be observed in his works. The artist returned to the USA in 1937 because of the changing political situation in Europe. He again moved to Seattle, Washington, where he lived until 1960. Tobey created his first musical compositions in Seattle in 1938.

In 1944 the Willard Gallery in New York exhibited his White Writings works for the first time, this exhibition marked his artistic breakthrough. Tobey covered the image surface with many layers of white or a similarly light color - this is the beginning of the "all over" painting, which referred to the non-differential treatment of the surface of a work of two-dimensional art, a style that is also applied by other artists such as Jackson Pollock. Tobey's works become more and more abstract and comply with the artist's meditative and contemplative lifestyle. Mark Tobey's works were exhibited in the 1959 and 1964 documenta exhibitions in Kassel, Germany and in numerous other exhibitions internationally. He belongs to the most important precursors of the American "Abstract Expressionism". The Smithsonian Institution in Washington held the first retrospective of his work in 1974.

Mark Tobey moved from Seattle to Basel, Switzerland in 1960 where he died on April 24, 1976.