Mark Tobey


Mark George Tobey (December 11, 1890 – April 24, 1976) was an American painter. His densely structured compositions, inspired by Asian calligraphy, resemble Abstract expressionism, although the motives for his compositions differ philosophically from most Abstract Expressionist painters. His work was widely recognized throughout the United States and Europe. Along with Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, and William Cumming, Tobey was a founder of the Northwest School. Senior in age and experience, he had a strong influence on the others; friend and mentor, Tobey shared their interest in philosophy and Eastern religions. Similar to others of the Northwest School, Tobey was mostly self-taught after early studies at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1921, Tobey founded the art department at The Cornish School in Seattle, Washington.

Tobey was an incessant traveler, visiting Mexico, Europe, Palestine, Israel, Turkey, Lebanon, China and Japan. After converting to the Baháʼí Faith, it became an important part of his life. Whether Tobey's all-over paintings, marked by oriental brushwork and calligraphic strokes, were an influencer on Jackson Pollock's drip paintings has been left unanswered. Born in Centerville, Wisconsin, Tobey lived in the Seattle, Washington area for most of his life before moving to Basel, Switzerland in the early 1960s with his companion, Pehr Hallsten; Tobey died there in 1976.

Wikidata identifier


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Beginning his career as an illustrator, Tobey was a deeply religious man, converting to the universalist Baha'i faith in 1918, which would in some way influence all of his works. After extensive traveling, including a period of time at a Zen monastary in Japan, Tobey taught art and philosophy at Dartington Hall in England until 1937. He then developed his "white writing" technique, painting white cursive writing on dark canvas, a technique which he would use extensively until his death. As an Abstract Expressionist, Tobey's work and career stand out as different because of his strong spiritual beliefs, as well as his varying interests (he was also a classically trained pianist).

Country of birth

United States


Artist, engraver, painter, photographer, sculptor

ULAN identifier



Mark Tobey, Tobey, Mark George Tobey

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Information from the Getty Research Institute's Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License. Accessed May 14, 2024.