Mark Tobey

12th May – 17th July 2009

opening: Monday 11th May 2009, 9pm.


Over 40 years have passed since Mark Tobey's first presence at Galleria Blu in Milan. In October 1968, in fact, a work by this American artist was shown at the exhibition titled "L'immortale" (the immortal) that collected works by the most important international artists, like Arp, Ernst, Fontana, Goetz, Magnelli, Matta, Picasso.
One of Mark Tobey's work is now exhibited at the exhibition "Morphologie autre. A tribute to Michel Tapié" at Galleria Blu until early May. A one-man exhibition is dedicated to Tobey. It collects 20 works made between 1953 and 1972, that is his full maturity years. The story of this great international maestro (certainly the senior American Abstract Expressionist) intertwines and mixes with the story of  Pollock, Kline, de Kooning, Motherwell, Rothko and Still with whom he took part in the exhibition "American Painting" at London Tate Gallery in 1956. That exhibition introduced for the first time the new representatives of the new American art (the New York School) to the European public. The so called Pacific School started growing all around him, as an opponent of the Newyorker proposal. It had its points of reference and incentives in the Eastern philosophies based upon the meditative approach of men to objects, that is it was based upon suggestions of intimist kind. Tobey first came to Italy in 1948 when he took part in Venice's Biennale. Then he also took part in 1956 and 1958 exhibitions (the latter earned him the Gran Premio Internazionale per la Pittura). On that same occasion, in the Biennale's catalogue, Frank O'Hara wrote about his painting by referring to his "predilection for the line as opponent of the mass" (the mass seen as typical element of the Western culture and art, the line as typical of the East). He wrote about the comparison Tobey had looked for, with some Eastern painting artists. He himself summarized this by saying he got to "find out by myself that you can 'see' a tree not only as far as light and mass are concerned but also as a dynamic line". On these bases his whole art developed, at first characterized by the "white writing" then by the Eastern calligraphy, then again developed in coloured writing, sometimes as a thick, varied, special structure sometimes as a simple disarming graphic work.

The exhibition is enriched by a catalogue with an introduction essay by Heiner Hachmeister, from Mark Tobey Committee of Muenster. He says Tobey is a "mediator between East and West" and underlines the Italian "contacts" of the American artist, starting with Piero della Francesca's frescoes in Arezzo up to Piero D'Orazio "whose 1950s works - he writes - though conceptually fed by constructivist sources are certainly influenced by Tobey. At least as far as their visual surface is concerned". But we must never forget also his influence on Tancredi's early works. The exibition will be opening monday May 11th, 2009 at 9 pm   till July 17th, 2009.


Mark Tobey was born in Centerville, Wisconsin, in 1890. After attending the classes of the Art Institute of Chicago (1906-1908) he moved to New York, where he worked as fashion designer. His first one-man exhibition was organized in 1917,  but the following year already, after he was converted to Baha'I religion, his painting started looking for a spiritual dimension. From 1922 on he lived in Seattle where he taught at the Cornish School of Allied Arts. There he started studying Chinese calligraphy. After a journey to Paris (1925) his way led him to Middle East, where he met Persian and Arab cultures (and writings). Then he went back to Seattle. A long stay in England (1931-1938) as artist in residence at Darlington Hall, a progressive school of Devonshire, allowed him to start new important journeys like the one of 1934 in the East. It was a period of meditation and study at a Zen monastery in the outskirts of Kyoto. There he started his "white writing" which gave him a universal success. It would be presented at New York Willard Gallery in 1944. Even museums became very interested in Tobey and a period of important exhibition started: Portland (1945), Chicago (1946), San Francisco (1951). In 1955 he was at Jeanne Bucher's in Paris and in 1957 he presented his Sumi ink paintings. The Gran Premio per la Pittura at Venice's Biennale (1958) introduced him to Europe. He moved to Basilea in 1960. There he remained till he died, in 1976. Many important museums celebrated him: Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Parigi (1961),  Museum of Modern Art in New York (1962), Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1966) and  National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington (1974).