Mark Tobey

American, 1890–1976

Travel Tobey, 1959

Mixed media on paper

3 x 2¼ inches

Signed and dated lower right

Tobey was born and raised in the Midwest and briefly attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He worked as a commercial illustrator and was a fashion illustrator in New York City from 1911 to 1922. Tobey’s oeuvre includes many small works, in part due to the fact that he was a constant traveler: he spent significant time in Seattle, New York, England, and Basel, Switzerland.

Tobey initially painted portrait and genre scenes, but after 1935 developed his “white writing” technique, described by scholar Matthew Baigell as a “tangle of thin, continuous linear strokes” related to oriental calligraphy and created from his desire not to be bound to realistic form. Tobey was interested in philosophy and Eastern religions. As a way of expressing underlying religious themes, Tobey avoided the use of focal points in his work. Instead, he created compositions using “multiple space”—a layering of several networks of lines that seemed as if they had been painted from within the picture—and “moving focus”—a multiplicity of details that keep a viewer’s gaze in motion. Tobey believed that these methods symbolized higher states of consciousness.