1890, Centerville, Wisconsin – 1976, Basel
The portrait artist, fashion illustrator and trained industrial designer is regarded as an important precursor of American Abstract Expressionism. Tobey described his distinctive calligraphic style as a kind of “moving line”. It is characterized by the frequent use of leaf-like forms and structures, crystalline networks of fine lines and above all by undulating, interconnecting and overlapping movement. His approach would have been quite unthinkable without the new perspective upon the states and portrayal of nature that was elaborated by the Impressionists, and by Claude Monet in particular, in the 1920s. Tobey placed great importance upon nature and derived considerable inspiration from natural forms.
Like many other young American painters of his day, his art was considerably influenced by the development of ‘all-over’ styles of painting. However the meditative, quiet radiance of Tobey’s ‘white writing’ that gives many of his paintings a vibrancy and an aura of happiness, clearly sets him apart from Pollock and other painters of the New York School who were engaged with gestural abstraction. Encouraged by his participation in documenta II and III (1959 and 1964) and the purchase of 40 works by Ernst Beyeler, Tobey settled in Basel in 1960 and remained here until his death in 1976.
“I like best to see in nature what I want in my painting. When we can find the abstract in nature we find the deepest art.” Mark Tobey