Mark Tobey was born in Centerville, Wisconsin in 1890. In 1918 he converted to the Baha’i World Faith. He came to Seattle in 1923 to teach at the Cornish School of Art and continued until 1930. He theorized that “an artist must find his expression closely linked to his individual experience or else follow in the old grooves resulting in lifeless forms.” He was influenced by the teachings of the Baha’i faith, East Asian painting, and calligraphy.
Tobey came to be affiliated with the Northwest School in the 1940s and ‘50s and helped draw national attention to work produced in the Northwest. In 1956 he was awarded the United States National Prize in the Guggenheim International Awards and elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters; in 1958 he won first prize for painting at the Venice Biennale.
In his work, Tobey focused on man, nature, God, unity and equilibrium. He used space as a theme as well as an illusion of painting. It represented the place we live everyday, the blanket of atmosphere surrounding the Earth, and the “inner space” conceived by the mind. Tobey reacted against the post-Cubistic ideas of his time of depicting a recognizable image within a definable space and instead advocated the integration of object and space in a “unified field image.” Tobey is famous for his white writing paintings which cover the surface of an abstract field of color made up of thousands of brushstrokes.
Tobey’s work is included in public and private collections around the world including the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Guggenheim Museum, NY, the Tate Modern, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Mark Tobey died April 1976 in Basel, Switzerland at the age of 85. Although he lived in many places around the world he always considered Seattle home.