Mark Tobey (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.

Timeline

1890
Born in Centerville, WI, USA on December 11th
1906
His family moved to Hammond near Chicago; visited courses at the Art Institute, Chicago, IL
1906–1908
Studied under Frank Zimmerman and Professor Reynolds at the Art Institute of Chicago, IL
1909
Worked as fashion-designer in Chicago, IL
1911
Moved to New York, still working as fashion-designer
1913–1917
Lived alternately in New York, NY and in Chicago; autodidactic artistic studies; has success as a portraitist
1922–1925
Studied calligraphy and composition under Teng Kwei, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
1926
Traveled to Akka and Haifa; studied Persian and Arabian literature
1927
Lived alternately in Seattle, Chicago and New York
1934
Travelled to China and Japan; spent time in a cloister of the Zen-Buddhism and studies Zen-painting and calligraphy
1935
Trips to Seattle and New York; back in South-England he created the first 'white writing'
1931–1938
Lived in England
1940
Studied music (flute, piano, composition); friendship with Lyonel Feininger
1940
Katherine Baker Memorial Award, Seattle Art Museum
1942
His painting 'Broadway' was honoured and purchased by the Metropolitan Museum, New York, NY
1942
Artists for Victory Prize
1956
Guggenheim International Award
1956
Honorary Member, National Institute of Arts and Letters
1957
Fine Arts Medal, American Institute of Architects
1958
First Prize for Painting, Biennale, Venice
1960
Moved to Basel
1961
First Prize for Painting, Carnegie International, Pittsburgh
1968
Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Paris
1970–1976
Lived and worked in Basel, Switzerland
1976
Died in Basel, Switzerland on April, 24th

Exhibitions

2009
Synchronies: Undercurrrents in Postwar European and American Abstraction, Hackett Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, USA
2008
Auktion 27, Lehr, Auktionshaus und Galerie, Berlin
2008
Künstler der Galerie - Zeichnungen, Bilder, Skulpturen, Fotografien, Galerie Biedermann, Munich, Germany
2007
Contemporary, Cool and Collected, Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC, USA
Le Corps et son double, Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris, France
The Passionate Gesture, Hackett Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, USA
Jan Bouman Collection, Groninger Museum, Groningen, Netherlands
Shining Spirit: Westheimer Family Collection, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OK, USA
Pathways and Parallels: Roads to Abstract Expressionism, Hollis Taggart Galeries, New York, NY
American Modernists, University of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie, WY, USA
2006
La Tentation de l'Orient, Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris, France
Künstler der Galerie, Galerie Biedermann, Munich, Germany
Wilfrid Moser/Mark Tobey, Galerie Carzaniga GmbH, Basel, Switzerland
Night Sounds: Nocturnal Visions of Mark Tobey and Morris Graves, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Seattle, WA, USA
Inner Worlds Outside, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
Collection 1, NMAO National Museum of Art Osaka, Japan
2005
Light Space, Hachmeister Galerie, Munster, Germany
Peintures et Sculptures, Galerie Alice Pauli, Lausanne, Switzerland
Little Treasures from the Permanent Collection, Polk Museum of Art, Lakeland, FL, USA
2005
Internationale Zeichnungen, Galerie Biedermann, Munich, Germany
2004
Galerie Pudelko, Bonn, Germany (solo)
An American Odyssey, 1950-1980 - Debating Modernism, Circulo de Bellas Artes, Madrid; Centro de Arte de Salamanca, Spain; Kiosco Alfonso, La Coruna, Spain
Onbegrensd – Unbegrenzt - Roger Raveelmuseum, Machelen, Belgium
Chine - Occident ou l'aventure du signe. Michaux, Tobey, Degottex, Zao Wou-Ki, Shan Sa - Galerie Berthet-Aittouarès, Paris, France
Künstler der Galerie, Galerie Biedermann, Munich, Germany
El Expresionismo Abstracto Americano en las Colecciones Españolas, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Esteban Vicente, Segovia, Spain
The Edge of Tomorrow - Tobey, Price and Graves from the 1940’s, Museum of Art, University of Oregon; San José Museum of Art, CA, USA
2003
Unaussprechlich schön - Das mystische Paradies in der Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts - Kunsthalle Erfurt, Germany
Two Friends - Lyonel Feininger, Mark Tobey, Achim Moeller Fine Art, New York, NY
Northwest Mythologies - The Interactions of Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan and Guy Anderson, Tacoma Art Museum, WA, USA
La collection Jean Planque, Salle St. Jean, Hotel de Ville, Paris, France
Separated Colours of Hachmeister, Hachmeister Galerie, Munster, Germany
Acquisitions Nouvelles, Galerie Alice Pauli, Lausanne, Switzerland
Abstract works on paper, autour de Mark Tobey, Galerie Darthea Speyer, Paris, France
2002–2003
Mark Tobey - Smashing Forms and Mark Tobey and Friends, Seattle Art, WA, USA
2002
Tobey – Price – Graves, University of Oregon Museum of Art, OR, USA
Klänge des Inneren Auges. Mark Tobey – Morris Graves – John Cage, Kunsthalle Bremen, Germany; Museum Tacoma, Tacoma, WA, USA
Baukunst Galerie, Cologne, Germany (solo)
Mark Tobey - Bilder von 1940 bis 1975, BAUKUNST GALERIE, Cologne, Germany (solo)
2001–2002
Da Kandinsky a Pollock: La vertigine della non-forma, Museo Cantonale d'Arte Lugano, Switzerland
2001
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Germany (solo)
Galerie Carzaniga + Uecker, Basel, Switzerland (solo)
Hachmeister Galerie, Munster, Germany (solo)
Museum Villa Rot, Burgrieden-Rot, Germany (solo)
The spirituality of the void, Fundacion Bancaja, Valencia, Spain
Asian Influences I, Kurt Lidtke Galleries, Seattle, WA, USA
Hue, Schmidt Bingham Galleries, New York, NY
2000
Zen und die westliche Kunst, Museum Bochum, Germany
Kurt Lidtke Galleries, Seattle, WA, USA (solo)
Galerie Biedermann, Munich, Germany (solo)
Native American Influences on 1930s & 1940s Modernists, David FIndlay Jr. FIne Art, New York, NY
Cross-Currents in Modern Art, Achim Moeller Fine Art, New York, NY
1999
Galerie Carzaniga + Uecker, Basel, Switzerland (solo)
Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, Germany (solo)
Kurt Lidtke Galleries, Seattle, WA, USA (solo)
1998–1999
Closeness of Distance, Khmer Skulpturen und Mark Tobey Bilder, Emil Mirzakhanian, Milan, Italy and Hachmeister Galerie, Munster, Germany
1998
Kurt Lidtke Galleries, Seattle, WA, USA (solo)
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain (solo)
Baukunst Galerie, Cologne, Germany (solo)
1996
Luhring Augustine, New York, NY
1992–1993
Baukunst Galerie, Cologne, Germany
1991–1992
Galerie Lea Gredt, Luxemberg
1991
Valley Museum of Northwest Art, La Conner, WA, USA
1990
Galerie Jeanne Bucher, FIAC, Paris, France
1977
"Mark Tobey Retrospective", Ruth S. Shaffner Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, USA
1974
Retrospective, National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian, Washington, DC, USA
1968
Retrospective, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, TX, USA
1967
Willard Gallery, New York, NY
1966
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands (solo)
1962
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (solo)
1961
Retrospective, Musée des Arts Decoratifs, subsidiary of the Louvre, Paris, France
1952
film “Tobey Mark: Artist” debuted in the Venice Film Festival and Edinburgh Film Festival
1951
(first retrospective), California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA, USA
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (group)
1945
Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR, USA (solo)

Literature

2004
Heiner Hachmeister (ed.), Mark Tobey Light Space, Muenster 2004
1991
Heiner Hachmeister (ed.), Mark Tobey Werke / Oeuvres 1945-1975, Muenster 1991