Calligraphy in White


Mark Tobey ( American, 1890 - 1976 )

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General Description

Prior to the emergence of abstract expressionism, the Wisconsin-born artist Mark Tobey had begun to develop his own abstract style as early as 1918. At that time he converted to Baha'i, a monotheistic faith originating in Persia that believes in the spiritual unity of mankind. His beliefs exerted significant influence on his life and work. Tobey was also influenced by East Asian calligraphy. A year after his move to Seattle, Washington, in 1922, he studied Chinese calligraphy with the painter Deng Kui, with whom he would again study in Shanghai in 1934. In 1930, Tobey moved to England where he remained until 1938. During this time he regularly traveled throughout the world. He spent a month studying meditation at the Zen monastery Enryaku-ji in Kyoto, Japan, in 1935. Following his return to England, he began to create paintings using a technique he called "white writing," evident in Calligraphy in White, which is executed in tempera on paper. Emerging into a field of intricate, autonomous line drawing, the painting expresses Tobey's religious conviction that space is as vital with spiritual and physical energy as solid matter.

Adapted from

  • Document headed "Mark Tobey (1890-1976) in the Collections Records object file (1971.88).
  • Namiko Kunimoto, "The Buddhist Hero," in Between Action and the Unknown: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga, ed. Gabriel Ritter (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2015), 75.