Mark Tobey: Threading Light



Accompanying a major retrospective, this long-overdue survey establishes Mark Tobey as a pioneering champion of abstraction in America.

The first comprehensive English-language monograph on Mark Tobey in forty years, this book traces the evolution of this artist's groundbreaking style and his significant yet under-recognized contributions to abstraction and midcentury American modernism.

One of the foremost American artists to emerge from the 1940s, a decade that saw the rise of Abstract Expressionism, Tobey (1890-1976) is now recognized as a vanguard figure whose work anticipated the formal innovations of New York School artists such as Jackson Pollock. Tobey's small tempera paintings composed of intricate, pale webs of delicate lines generated much interest for their daring "all-over" compositions.

Tobey's unique form of abstraction was the synthesis of his living both in Seattle and New York, his extensive trips to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kyoto, and Europe, and his conversion to the Baha'i faith. His subtle calligraphic renderings are composed of a lyrical integration of both Eastern and Western visual histories and philosophies and pan-cultural references to abstract traditions that range from Chinese scroll painting to European Cubism.

Surveying the artist's career with works ranging from the 1920s to 1970, this fully illustrated volume reveals the extraordinarily nuanced yet radical beauty of Tobey's painting, affirming his significant role in the development of abstraction.

Product Details

Rizzoli Electa
Publish Date
May 02, 2017
9.4 X 1.0 X 12.3 inches | 3.6 pounds

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About the Author

Debra Bricker Balken is an independent curator and author who has organized numerous exhibitions on subjects relating to American modernism and contemporary art for major museums nationally.


"... it can only be hoped that this moving, thought-provoking show will go some way to restoring Tobey to his right place in the story of 20th-century art."
--Rob Weinberg, Apollo

"This exhibition excavates Tobey as a global artist for now, concerend with east-west fusion--Japanese calligraphy was a key influence--and eastern philosophical belief in spiritual unity."
--Jackie Wullschlager, The Financial Times

"Tobey's accomplishment was to generate an overall, organically wiry calligraphic approach that exuded a gauzy poetry. Unlike Pollock's more stentorian all-over paintings, Tobey's quietly beckon the viewer to come in."
--Peter Plagens, The Wall Street Journal

"Tobey's work is subjective, but he wasn't excavating his psyche the way his Abstract Expressionist colleagues were, and his Baha'i faith simmers through his paintings. His white writing might be divinity itself."
--Cate McQuaid, The Boston Globe