Mark Tobey and the Calligraphic Line

Exhibition Website

Feb 18 2017 - May 21 2017

This rotation features a selection of works by Pacific Northwest artist Mark Tobey (1890–1976) from the JSMA’s collection, including new acquisitions from the Elizabeth Cole Butler Estate. The paintings and lithographs on view demonstrate how Tobey’s signature “white writing,” calligraphic marks that conveyed energy and light, appears in different media

Tobey studied traditional Asian calligraphy, Zen philosophy, meditation, and haiku poetry at a monastery outside Kyoto, Japan, for a month in 1934. This experience helped shape his way of thinking about his own art. He developed his “white writing” over the following decade in response to what he saw as a significant difference between the formal concerns of Western artists (more focused on mass) and Asian artists (more focused on line). The exhibition was organized by Danielle Knapp, McCosh Associate Curator.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website

Whether you go or not, Mark Tobey: Threading Light is  the first comprehensive English-language monograph on Mark Tobey in forty years, this book traces the evolution of this artist’s groundbreaking style and his significant yet under-recognized contributions to abstraction and midcentury American modernism. One of the foremost American artists to emerge from the 1940s, a decade that saw the rise of Abstract Expressionism, Tobey (1890–1976) is now recognized as a vanguard figure whose work anticipated the formal innovations of New York School artists such as Jackson Pollock. Tobey’s small tempera paintings composed of intricate, pale webs of delicate lines generated much interest for their daring “all-over” compositions. Surveying the artist’s career with works ranging from the 1920s to 1970, this fully illustrated volume reveals the extraordinarily nuanced yet radical beauty of Tobey’s painting, affirming his significant role in the development of abstraction.

Mark Tobey: Threading Light

  • Painting
  • American
  • 20th Century
  • Abstraction
  • Lithograph
  • Mark Tobey

Exhibition Venues & Dates