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Mark Tobey’s Threading Light

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice is hosting a comprehensive retrospective of the American artist’s abstract work

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Text by Rab Messina

Mark Tobey used “words” to describe the world that surrounded him. It was calligraphy, somehow, using a literally layered language on canvas that was unreadable to third parties. This summer, 66 of his expressionist pictorial pieces will be on display in Threading Light, a comprehensive retrospective at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

Tobey was born in 1890 in Wisconsin but lived in Seattle in New York and was averse to the Americanism that emerged in the country after WWII. He converted to the Bahá’í faith and was heavily inspired by Arabic calligraphy and Chinese scrolls. That intersection, perhaps, is where his “white-writing” was born: he was known for using a technique wherein he used thousands of brushstrokes to leave calligraphic marks on top of abstract layers. “Within this mix of sources, Tobey was able to skirt a specific debt to cubism —unlike his modernist peers— by fusing elements of like formal languages into compositions that are both astonishingly radical and beautiful,” explained curator Debra Bricker Balken.

The paintings at Threading Light span from the 1920s through 1970, and the artist used them as a pathway towards a “higher state of consciousness.” As a common denominator, they reject the expansive aggressiveness of the likes of Pollock and instead aim to create delicate, intricate and intimate worlds inside every square inch.

The companion piece to the exhibition is a 208-page catalogue by Skira Rizzoli that documents the artist’s work, with a contextual and artistic analysis by Balken.

Marc Tobey: Threading Light is open until September 10.

crystallizations_mark_tobey
Crystallizations 1944 Tempera on board Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, Mabel Ashley Kizer Fund, Gift of Melitta and Rex Vaughan, and Modern and Contemporary Acquisitions Fund © 2017 Mark Tobey / Seattle Art Museum, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
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Untitled (Sumi Drawing) 1957 Ink on paper The Martha Jackson Collection at The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, 1974:8.37 © 2017 Mark Tobey / Seattle Art Museum, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
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Wild Field 1959 Tempera on board The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection, 1967 © 2017 Mark Tobey / Seattle Art Museum, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
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Fragments in Time and Space 1956 Gouache on paper Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Gift of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation, 1966 © 2017 Mark Tobey / Seattle Art Museum, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
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Threading Light 1942 Tempera on board The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Purchase, 86.1944 © 2017 Mark Tobey / Seattle Art Museum, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
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