(American, 1890–1976) is regarded as a pioneer of Abstract Expressionism. He is most famous for his so-called White Writing
—an overlay of white or light-colored calligraphic symbols on an Abstract field, often composed of thousands of small, interwoven brushstrokes. This method gave rise to the type of “all-over” painting style
made most famous by Jackson Pollock
(American, 1912–1956). While Tobey’s early works are Figural, his later paintings are increasingly Abstract
and contemplative. In 1911, Tobey worked as an illustrator for fashion magazines in New York, and began to study Middle Eastern literature and Eastern philosophy, becoming a member of the Baha'i Faith. After working as an art teacher, he began travelling around the world, first to Europe, then to Persia, Shanghai, and Kyoto, where he visited a cloister and studied Zen painting, haiku poetry, and calligraphy.
In 1944, Tobey had his first solo exhibition in the Willard Gallery in New York, and then in 1951, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, in an exhibition that also traveled to San Francisco, Seattle, and Santa Barbara. The exhibition led to his international success, and he then participated in the 1959 and 1964 documenta exhibitions in Kassel, Germany. In 1960, he returned to the United States and settled in Seattle, before moving to Basel, Switzerland, where he lived until his death in 1976. Tobey has had retrospectives at the Smithsonian Museum and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany, and the Foundation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland. His work can be found in most major museum collections in the United States and internationally, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., the Tate Gallery in London, and the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.