Mark Tobey Canticle Analysis Essay

Not to be confused with Abstract art.

Abstract expressionism is a post–World War IIart movement in American painting, developed in New York in the 1940s.[1] It was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York City at the center of the western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris. Although the term abstract expressionism was first applied to American art in 1946 by the art critic Robert Coates, it had been first used in Germany in 1919 in the magazine Der Sturm, regarding German Expressionism. In the United States, Alfred Barr was the first to use this term in 1929 in relation to works by Wassily Kandinsky.[2]


Technically, an important predecessor is surrealism, with its emphasis on spontaneous, automatic, or subconscious creation. Jackson Pollock's dripping paint onto a canvas laid on the floor is a technique that has its roots in the work of André Masson, Max Ernst, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. The newer research tends to put the exile-surrealist Wolfgang Paalen in the position of the artist and theoretician who fostered the theory of the viewer-dependent possibility space through his paintings and his magazine DYN. Paalen considered ideas of quantum mechanics, as well as idiosyncratic interpretations of the totemic vision and the spatial structure of native-Indian painting from British Columbia and prepared the ground for the new spatial vision of the young American abstracts. His long essay Totem Art (1943) had considerable influence on such artists as Martha Graham, Isamu Noguchi, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.[3] Around 1944 Barnett Newman tried to explain America's newest art movement and included a list of "the men in the new movement." Paalen is mentioned twice, other artists mentioned are Gottlieb, Rothko, Pollock, Hofmann, Baziotes, Gorky and others. Motherwell is mentioned with a question mark.[4] Another important early manifestation of what came to be abstract expressionism is the work of American Northwest artist Mark Tobey, especially his "white writing" canvases, which, though generally not large in scale, anticipate the "all-over" look of Pollock's drip paintings.

The movement's name is derived from the combination of the emotional intensity and self-denial of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools such as Futurism, the Bauhaus, and Synthetic Cubism. Additionally, it has an image of being rebellious, anarchic, highly idiosyncratic and, some feel, nihilistic.[5] In practice, the term is applied to any number of artists working (mostly) in New York who had quite different styles, and even to work that is neither especially abstract nor expressionist. California Abstract Expressionist Jay Meuser, who typically painted in the non-objective style, wrote about his painting Mare Nostrum, "It is far better to capture the glorious spirit of the sea than to paint all of its tiny ripples." Pollock's energetic "action paintings", with their "busy" feel, are different, both technically and aesthetically, from the violent and grotesque Women series of Willem de Kooning's figurative paintings and the rectangles of color in Mark Rothko's Color Field paintings (which are not what would usually be called expressionist, and which Rothko denied were abstract). Yet all four artists are classified as abstract expressionists.

Abstract expressionism has many stylistic similarities to the Russian artists of the early 20th century such as Wassily Kandinsky. Although it is true that spontaneity or the impression of spontaneity characterized many of the abstract expressionists works, most of these paintings involved careful planning, especially since their large size demanded it. With artists such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Emma Kunz, and later on Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Agnes Martin, abstract art clearly implied expression of ideas concerning the spiritual, the unconscious, and the mind.[6]

Why this style gained mainstream acceptance in the 1950s is a matter of debate. American social realism had been the mainstream in the 1930s. It had been influenced not only by the Great Depression, but also by the muralists of Mexico such as David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera. The political climate after World War II did not long tolerate the social protests of these painters. Abstract expressionism arose during World War II and began to be showcased during the early forties at galleries in New York such as The Art of This Century Gallery. The McCarthy era after World War II was a time of artistic censorship in the United States, but if the subject matter were totally abstract then it would be seen as apolitical, and therefore safe. Or if the art was political, the message was largely for the insiders.[7]

While the movement is closely associated with painting, and painters such as Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Clyfford Still, Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and others, collagistAnne Ryan and sculpture and certain sculptors in particular were also integral to Abstract Expressionism.[8]David Smith, and his wife Dorothy Dehner, Herbert Ferber, Isamu Noguchi, Ibram Lassaw, Theodore Roszak, Phillip Pavia, Mary Callery, Richard Stankiewicz, Louise Bourgeois, and Louise Nevelson in particular were some of the sculptors considered as being important members of the movement. In addition, the artists David Hare, John Chamberlain, James Rosati, Mark di Suvero, and sculptors Richard Lippold, Herbert Ferber, Raoul Hague, George Rickey, Reuben Nakian, and even Tony Smith, Seymour Lipton, Joseph Cornell, and several others[9] were integral parts of the Abstract expressionist movement. Many of the sculptors listed participated in the Ninth Street Show,[9] a famous exhibition curated by Leo Castelli on East Ninth Street in New York City in 1951. Besides the painters and sculptors of the period the New York School of Abstract expressionism also generated a number of supportive poets, including Frank O'Hara and photographers such as Aaron Siskind and Fred McDarrah, (whose book The Artist's World in Pictures documented the New York School during the 1950s), and filmmakers — notably Robert Frank — as well.

Although the abstract expressionist school spread quickly throughout the United States, the major centers of this style were New York City and the San Francisco Bay area of California.

Art critics of the post–World War II era

At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.

—Harold Rosenberg[10]

In the 1940s there were not only few galleries (The Art of This Century, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Julien Levy Gallery and a few others) but also few critics who were willing to follow the work of the New York Vanguard. There were also a few artists with a literary background, among them Robert Motherwell and Barnett Newman, who functioned as critics as well.

While New York and the world were yet unfamiliar with the New York avant-garde by the late 1940s, most of the artists who have become household names today had their well-established patron critics: Clement Greenberg advocated Jackson Pollock and the color field painters like Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb and Hans Hofmann. Harold Rosenberg seemed to prefer the action painters such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, as well as the seminal paintings of Arshile Gorky. Thomas B. Hess, the managing editor of ARTnews, championed Willem de Kooning.

The new critics elevated their protégés by casting other artists as "followers"[11] or ignoring those who did not serve their promotional goal.

In 1958, Mark Tobey became the first American painter since Whistler (1895) to win top prize at the Venice Biennale.[12]

Barnett Newman, a late member of the Uptown Group, wrote catalogue forewords and reviews, and by the late 1940s became an exhibiting artist at Betty Parsons Gallery. His first solo show was in 1948. Soon after his first exhibition, Barnett Newman remarked in one of the Artists' Session at Studio 35: "We are in the process of making the world, to a certain extent, in our own image."[13] Utilizing his writing skills, Newman fought every step of the way to reinforce his newly established image as an artist and to promote his work. An example is his letter on April 9, 1955, "Letter to Sidney Janis: — it is true that Rothko talks the fighter. He fights, however, to submit to the philistine world. My struggle against bourgeois society has involved the total rejection of it."[14]

Strangely the person thought to have had most to do with the promotion of this style was a New York Trotskyite; Clement Greenberg. As long-time art critic for the Partisan Review and The Nation, he became an early and literate proponent of abstract expressionism. The well-heeled artist Robert Motherwell joined Greenberg in promoting a style that fit the political climate and the intellectual rebelliousness of the era.

Clement Greenberg proclaimed abstract expressionism and Jackson Pollock in particular as the epitome of aesthetic value. He supported Pollock's work on formalistic grounds as simply the best painting of its day and the culmination of an art tradition going back via Cubism and Cézanne to Monet, in which painting became ever-'purer' and more concentrated in what was 'essential' to it, the making of marks on a flat surface.[15]

Jackson Pollock's work has always polarised critics. Harold Rosenberg spoke of the transformation of painting into an existential drama in Pollock's work, in which "what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event". "The big moment came when it was decided to paint 'just to paint'. The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation from value — political, aesthetic, moral."[16]

One of the most vocal critics of abstract expressionism at the time was New York Times art critic John Canaday. Meyer Schapiro and Leo Steinberg along with Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg were important art historians of the post-war era who voiced support for abstract expressionism. During the early-to-mid-sixties younger art critics Michael Fried, Rosalind Krauss, and Robert Hughes added considerable insights into the critical dialectic that continues to grow around abstract expressionism.


World War II and the Post-War period

During the period leading up to and during World War II, modernist artists, writers, and poets, as well as important collectors and dealers, fled Europe and the onslaught of the Nazis for safe haven in the United States. Many of those who didn't flee perished. Among the artists and collectors who arrived in New York during the war (some with help from Varian Fry) were Hans Namuth, Yves Tanguy, Kay Sage, Max Ernst, Jimmy Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, Leo Castelli, Marcel Duchamp, André Masson, Roberto Matta, André Breton, Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz, Fernand Léger, and Piet Mondrian. A few artists, notably Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Pierre Bonnard remained in France and survived.

The post-war period left the capitals of Europe in upheaval, with an urgency to economically and physically rebuild and to politically regroup. In Paris, formerly the center of European culture and capital of the art world, the climate for art was a disaster, and New York replaced Paris as the new center of the art world. In Europe after the war there was the continuation of Surrealism, Cubism, Dada, and the works of Matisse. Also in Europe, Art brut,[17] and Lyrical Abstraction or Tachisme (the European equivalent to Abstract expressionism) took hold of the newest generation. Serge Poliakoff, Nicolas de Staël, Georges Mathieu, Vieira da Silva, Jean Dubuffet, Yves Klein, Pierre Soulages and Jean Messagier, among others are considered important figures in post-war European painting.[18] In the United States, a new generation of American artists began to emerge and to dominate the world stage, and they were called Abstract Expressionists.

Gorky, Hofmann, and Graham

The 1940s in New York City heralded the triumph of American Abstract expressionism, a modernist movement that combined lessons learned from Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Surrealism, Joan Miró, Cubism, Fauvism, and early Modernism via great teachers in America such as Hans Hofmann from Germany and John D. Graham from Russia. Graham's influence on American art during the early 1940s was particularly visible in the work of Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Richard Pousette-Dart among others. Gorky's contributions to American and world art are difficult to overestimate. His work as lyrical abstraction[20][21][22][23][24] was a "new language.[20] He "lit the way for two generations of American artists".[20] The painterly spontaneity of mature works such as "The Liver is the Cock's Comb", "The Betrothal II", and "One Year the Milkweed" immediately prefigured Abstract expressionism, and leaders in the New York School have acknowledged Gorky's considerable influence. The early work of Hyman Bloom was also influential.[25] American artists also benefited from the presence of Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger, Max Ernst, and the André Breton group, Pierre Matisse's gallery, and Peggy Guggenheim's gallery The Art of This Century, as well as other factors. Hans Hofmann in particular as teacher, mentor, and artist was both important and influential to the development and success of Abstract Expressionism in the United States. Among Hofmann's protégés was Clement Greenberg, who became an enormously influential voice for American painting, and among his students was Lee Krasner, who introduced her teacher, Hofmann, to her husband, Jackson Pollock.

Pollock and Abstract influences

During the late 1940s, Jackson Pollock's radical approach to painting revolutionized the potential for all Contemporary art that followed him. To some extent, Pollock realized that the journey toward making a work of art was as important as the work of art itself. Like Pablo Picasso's innovative reinventions of painting and sculpture near the turn of the century via Cubism and constructed sculpture, with influences as disparate as Navahosand paintings, surrealism, Jungian analysis, and Mexican mural art,[26] Pollock redefined what it was to produce art. His move away from easel painting and conventionality was a liberating signal to the artists of his era and to all that came after. Artists realized that Jackson Pollock's process—the placing of unstretched raw canvas on the floor where it could be attacked from all four sides using artist materials and industrial materials; linear skeins of paint dripped and thrown; drawing, staining, brushing; imagery and non-imagery—essentially took art making beyond any prior boundary. Abstract expressionism in general expanded and developed the definitions and possibilities that artists had available for the creation of new works of art.

The other Abstract expressionists followed Pollock's breakthrough with new breakthroughs of their own. In a sense the innovations of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Philip Guston, Hans Hofmann, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Pousette-Dart, Robert Motherwell, Peter Voulkos, and others opened the floodgates to the diversity and scope of all the art that followed them. The new art movements of the 1960s essentially followed the lead of Abstract Expressionism and in particular the innovations of Pollock, De Kooning, Rothko, Hofmann, Reinhardt, and Newman. The radical Anti-Formalist movements of the 1960s and 1970s including Fluxus, Neo-Dada, Conceptual art, and the feminist art movement can be traced to the innovations of Abstract Expressionism. Rereadings into abstract art, done by art historians such as Linda Nochlin,[27]Griselda Pollock[28] and Catherine de Zegher[29] critically shows, however, that pioneer women artists who have produced major innovations in modern art had been ignored by the official accounts of its history, but finally began to achieve long overdue recognition in the wake of the abstract expressionist movement of the 1940s and 1950s. Abstract expressionism emerged as a major art movement in New York City during the 1950s and thereafter several leading art galleries began to include the abstract expressionists in exhibitions and as regulars in their rosters. Some of those prominent 'uptown' galleries included: the Charles Egan Gallery,[30] the Sidney Janis Gallery,[31] the Betty Parsons Gallery,[32] the Kootz Gallery,[33] The Tibor de Nagy Gallery, the Stable Gallery, the Leo Castelli Gallery as well as others; and several downtown galleries known at the time as the Tenth Street galleries exhibited many emerging younger artists working in the abstract expressionist vein.

Action painting

The style was widespread from the 1940s until the early 1960s, and is closely associated with abstract expressionism (some critics have used the terms action painting and abstract expressionism interchangeably). A comparison is often drawn between the American action painting and the French tachisme.

The term was coined by the American critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952[34] and signaled a major shift in the aesthetic perspective of New York School painters and critics. According to Rosenberg the canvas was "an arena in which to act". While abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning had long been outspoken in their view of a painting as an arena within which to come to terms with the act of creation, earlier critics sympathetic to their cause, like Clement Greenberg, focused on their works' "objectness." To Greenberg, it was the physicality of the paintings' clotted and oil-caked surfaces that was the key to understanding them as documents of the artists' existential struggle.

Rosenberg's critique shifted the emphasis from the object to the struggle itself, with the finished painting being only the physical manifestation, a kind of residue, of the actual work of art, which was in the act or process of the painting's creation. This spontaneous activity was the "action" of the painter, through arm and wrist movement, painterly gestures, brushstrokes, thrown paint, splashed, stained, scumbled and dripped. The painter would sometimes let the paint drip onto the canvas, while rhythmically dancing, or even standing in the canvas, sometimes letting the paint fall according to the subconscious mind, thus letting the unconscious part of the psyche assert and express itself. All this, however, is difficult to explain or interpret because it is a supposed unconscious manifestation of the act of pure creation.[35]

In practice, the term abstract expressionism is applied to any number of artists working (mostly) in New York who had quite different styles, and even applied to work which is not especially abstract nor expressionist. Pollock's energetic action paintings, with their "busy" feel, are different both technically and aesthetically, to the violent and grotesque Women series of Willem de Kooning. (As seen above) Woman V is one of a series of six paintings made by de Kooning between 1950 and 1953 that depict a three-quarter-length female figure. He began the first of these paintings, Woman I, collection: The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, in June 1950, repeatedly changing and painting out the image until January or February 1952, when the painting was abandoned unfinished. The art historian Meyer Schapiro saw the painting in de Kooning's studio soon afterwards and encouraged the artist to persist. De Kooning's response was to begin three other paintings on the same theme; Woman II, collection: The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, Woman III,Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Woman IV,Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. During the summer of 1952, spent at East Hampton, de Kooning further explored the theme through drawings and pastels. He may have finished work on Woman I by the end of June, or possibly as late as November 1952, and probably the other three women pictures were concluded at much the same time.[36] The Woman series are decidedly figurative paintings.

Another important artist is Franz Kline, as demonstrated by his painting Number 2, 1954 (see above) as with Jackson Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists, was labelled an "action painter because of his seemingly spontaneous and intense style, focusing less, or not at all, on figures or imagery, but on the actual brush strokes and use of canvas. Automatic writing was an important vehicle for action painters Franz Kline in his black and white paintings, Jackson Pollock, Mark Tobey and Cy Twombly who used gesture, surface, and line to create calligraphic, linear symbols and skeins that resemble language, and resonate as powerful manifestations from the collective unconscious.[37]Robert Motherwell in his Elegy to the Spanish Republic series also painted powerful black and white paintings using gesture, surface and symbol evoking powerful emotional charges.

While other action painters notably Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Norman Bluhm, Joan Mitchell, and James Brooks (see gallery) used imagery via either abstract landscape or as expressionistic visions of the figure to articulate their highly personal and powerful evocations. James Brooks' paintings were particularly poetic and highly prescient in relationship to Lyrical Abstraction that became prominent in the late 1960s and the 1970s.[38]

Color field

Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb and the serenely shimmering blocks of color in Mark Rothko's work (which is not what would usually be called expressionist and which Rothko denied was abstract), are classified as abstract expressionists, albeit from what Clement Greenberg termed the Color field direction of abstract expressionism. Both Hans Hofmann (see gallery) and Robert Motherwell (gallery) can be comfortably described as practitioners of action painting and Color field painting. In the 1940s Richard Pousette-Dart's tightly constructed imagery often depended upon themes of mythology and mysticism; as did the paintings of Adolph Gottlieb, and Jackson Pollock in that decade as well.

Color Field painting initially referred to a particular type of abstract expressionism, especially the work of Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt and several series of paintings by Joan Miró. Art criticClement Greenberg perceived Color Field painting as related to but different from Action painting. The Color Field painters sought to rid their art of superfluous rhetoric. Artists like Robert Motherwell, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Francis, Mark Tobey, and especially Ad Reinhardt and Barnett Newman, whose masterpiece Vir heroicus sublimis is in the collection of MoMA, used greatly reduced references to nature, and they painted with a highly articulated and psychological use of color. In general these artists eliminated recognizable imagery, in the case of Rothko and Gottlieb sometimes using symbol and sign as replacement of imagery.[39] Certain artists quoted references to past or present art, but in general color field painting presents abstraction as an end in itself. In pursuing this direction of modern art, artists wanted to present each painting as one unified, cohesive, monolithic image.

In distinction to the emotional energy and gestural surface marks of Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, the Color Field painters initially appeared to be cool and austere, effacing the individual mark in favor of large, flat areas of color, which these artists considered to be the essential nature of visual abstraction, along with the actual shape of the canvas, which later in the 1960s Frank Stella in particular achieved in unusual ways with combinations of curved and straight edges. However Color Field painting has proven to be both sensual and deeply expressive albeit in a different way from gestural Abstract expressionism.

Although Abstract expressionism spread quickly throughout the United States, the major centers of this style were New York City and California, especially in the New York School, and the San Francisco Bay area. Abstract expressionist paintings share certain characteristics, including the use of large canvases, an "all-over" approach, in which the whole canvas is treated with equal importance (as opposed to the center being of more interest than the edges). The canvas as the arena became a credo of Action painting, while the integrity of the picture plane became a credo of the Color field painters. Younger artists began exhibiting their abstract expressionist related paintings during the 1950s as well including Alfred Leslie, Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Cy Twombly, Milton Resnick, Michael Goldberg, Norman Bluhm, Grace Hartigan, Friedel Dzubas, and Robert Goodnough among others.

Although Pollock is closely associated with Action Painting because of his style, technique, and his painterly touch and his physical application of paint, art critics have likened Pollock to both Action painting and color field painting. Another critical view advanced by Clement Greenberg connects Pollock's allover canvasses to the large-scale Water Lilies of Claude Monet done during the 1920s. Greenberg, art critic Michael Fried, and others have observed that the overall feeling in Pollock's most famous works – his drip paintings – read as vast fields of built-up linear elements often reading as vast complexes of similar valued paint skeins that read as all over fields of color and drawing, and are related to the mural-sized late Monets that are constructed of many passages of close valued brushed and scumbled marks that also read as close valued fields of color and drawing that Monet used in building his picture surfaces. Pollock's use of all-over composition lend a philosophical and a physical connection to the way the color field painters like Newman, Rothko and Still construct their unbroken and in Still's case broken surfaces. In several paintings that Pollock painted after his classic drip painting period of 1947–1950, he used the technique of staining fluid oil paint and house paint into raw canvas. During 1951 he produced a series of semi-figurative black stain paintings, and in 1952 he produced stain paintings using color. In his November 1952 exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York City Pollock showed Number 12, 1952, a large, masterful stain painting that resembles a brightly colored stained landscape (with an overlay of broadly dripped dark paint); the painting was acquired from the exhibition by Nelson Rockefeller for his personal collection. In 1960 the painting was severely damaged by fire in the Governors Mansion in Albany that also severely damaged an Arshile Gorky painting and several other works in the Rockefeller collection. However, by 1999 it had been restored and was installed in Albany Mall.[40][41]

While Arshile Gorky is considered to be one of the founding fathers of Abstract Expressionism and a Surrealist, he was also one of the first painters of the New York School who used the technique of staining. Gorky created broad fields of vivid, open, unbroken color that he used in many of his paintings as grounds. In Gorky's most effective and accomplished paintings between the years 1941–1948, he consistently used intense stained fields of color, often letting the paint run and drip, under and around his familiar lexicon of organic and biomorphic shapes and delicate lines. Another abstract expressionist whose works in the 1940s call to mind the stain paintings of the 1960s and the 1970s is James Brooks. Brooks regularly used stain as a technique in his paintings from the late 1940s. Brooks began diluting his oil paint in order to have fluid colors with which to pour and drip and stain into the mostly raw canvas that he used. These works often combined calligraphy and abstract shapes. During the final three decades of his career, Sam Francis' style of large-scale bright Abstract expressionism was closely associated with Color field painting. His paintings straddled both camps within the Abstract Expressionist rubric, Action painting and Color Field painting.

Having seen Jackson Pollock's 1951 paintings of thinned black oil paint stained into raw canvas, Helen Frankenthaler began to produce stain paintings in varied oil colors on raw canvas in 1952. Her most famous painting from that period is Mountains and Sea(as seen below). She is one of the originators of the Color Field movement that emerged in the late 1950s.[43] Frankenthaler also studied with Hans Hofmann. Hofmann's paintings are a symphony of color as seen in The Gate, 1959–1960. Hofmann was renowned not only as an artist but also as a teacher of art, both in his native Germany and later in the U.S. Hans Hofmann, who came to the United States from Germany in the early 1930s, brought with him the legacy of Modernism. Hofmann was a young artist working in Paris who painted there before World War I. Hofmann worked in Paris with Robert Delaunay, and he knew firsthand the innovative work of both Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Matisse's work had an enormous influence on him, and on his understanding of the expressive language of color and the potentiality of abstraction. Hofmann was one of the first theorists of color field painting, and his theories were influential to artists and to critics, particularly to Clement Greenberg, as well as to others during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1953 Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland were both profoundly influenced by Helen Frankenthaler's stain paintings after visiting her studio in New York City. Returning to Washington, DC., they began to produce the major works that created the color field movement in the late 1950s.[44]

In 1972 then Metropolitan Museum of ArtcuratorHenry Geldzahler said:

Clement Greenberg included the work of both Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland in a show that he did at the Kootz Gallery in the early 1950s. Clem was the first to see their potential. He invited them up to New York in 1953, I think it was, to Helen's studio to see a painting that she had just done called Mountains and Sea, a very, very beautiful painting, which was in a sense, out of Pollock and out of Gorky. It also was one of the first stain pictures, one of the first large field pictures in which the stain technique was used, perhaps the first one. Louis and Noland saw the picture unrolled on the floor of her studio and went back to Washington, DC., and worked together for a while, working at the implications of this kind of painting.[45][46]

In the 1960s after abstract expressionism

Main articles: Post-painterly abstraction, Color Field painting, Lyrical Abstraction, Arte Povera, Process Art, Minimal art, Postminimalism, and Western painting

In abstract painting during the 1950s and 1960s, several new directions, like the Hard-edge painting exemplified by John McLaughlin, emerged. Meanwhile, as a reaction against the subjectivism of Abstract expressionism, other forms of Geometric abstraction began to appear in artist studios and in radical avant-garde circles. Clement Greenberg became the voice of Post-painterly abstraction; by curating an influential exhibition of new painting that toured important art museums throughout the United States in 1964. Color field painting, Hard-edge painting and Lyrical Abstraction[47] emerged as radical new directions.

Abstract expressionism and the Cold War

Since the mid-1970s it has been argued by revisionist historians that the style attracted the attention, in the early 1950s, of the CIA, who saw it as representative of the USA as a haven of free thought and free markets, as well as a challenge to both the socialist realist styles prevalent in communist nations and the dominance of the European art markets.[48] The book by Frances Stonor Saunders,[49]The Cultural Cold War—The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters,[50] published in the UK as Who Paid the Piper?: CIA and the Cultural Cold War, details how the CIA financed and organized the promotion of American abstract expressionists as part of cultural imperialism via the Congress for Cultural Freedom from 1950 to 1967. Notably Robert Motherwell's series Elegy to the Spanish Republic addressed some of those political issues. Tom Braden, founding chief of the CIA's International Organizations Division (IOD) and ex-executive secretary of the Museum of Modern Art said in an interview, "I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War."[51]

Against this revisionist tradition, an essay by Michael Kimmelman, chief art critic of The New York Times, called Revisiting the Revisionists: The Modern, Its Critics and the Cold War, argues that much of this information (as well as the revisionists' interpretation of it) concerning what was happening on the American art scene during the 1940s and 50s is flatly false, or at best (contrary to the revisionists' avowed historiographic principles) decontextualized.[52] Other books on the subject include Art in the Cold War by Christine Lindey, which also describes the art of the Soviet Union at the same time; and Pollock and After edited by Francis Frascina, which reprinted the Kimmelman article.


Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923–2002), a member of the Montreal-based surrealist-inspired group Les Automatistes, helped introduce a related style of abstract impressionism to the Parisian art world from 1949. Michel Tapié's groundbreaking book, Un Art Autre (1952), was also enormously influential in this regard. Tapié was also a curator and exhibition organizer who promoted the works of Pollock and Hans Hofmann in Europe. By the 1960s, the movement's initial affect had been assimilated, yet its methods and proponents remained highly influential in art, affecting profoundly the work of many artists who followed. Abstract Expressionism preceded Tachisme, Color Field painting, Lyrical Abstraction, Fluxus, Pop Art, Minimalism, Postminimalism, Neo-expressionism, and the other movements of the sixties and seventies and it influenced all those later movements that evolved. Movements which were direct responses to, and rebellions against abstract expressionism began with Hard-edge painting (Frank Stella, Robert Indiana and others) and Pop artists, notably Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein who achieved prominence in the US, accompanied by Richard Hamilton in Britain. Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns in the US formed a bridge between abstract expressionism and Pop art. Minimalism was exemplified by artists such as Donald Judd, Robert Mangold and Agnes Martin.

However, many painters, such as Jules Olitski, Joan Mitchell and Antoni Tàpies continued to work in the abstract expressionist style for many years, extending and expanding its visual and philosophical implications, as many abstract artists continue to do today, in styles described as Lyrical Abstraction, Neo-expressionist and others.

In the years after World War II, a group of New York artists started one of the first true schools of artists in America, bringing about a new era in American artwork: Abstract Expressionism. This led to the American art boom that brought about styles such as Pop Art. This also helped to make New York into a cultural and artistic hub.[53]

Abstract expressionist value expression over perfection, vitality over finish, fluctuation over repose, the unknown over the known, the veiled over the clear, the individual over society and the inner over the outer.

—William C. Seitz, American artist and Art historian

Major sculpture

    List of abstract expressionists

    Major artists

    Significant artists whose mature work defined American Abstract Expressionism:

    Other artists

    Significant artists whose mature work relates to the American Abstract Expressionist movement:

    Mark Tobey, Canticle, 1954. Tobey, like Pollock, was known for his calligraphic style of allover compositions.

    Barnett Newman, Onement 1, 1948. During the 1940s Barnett Newman wrote several articles about the new American painting.

    Hans HofmannThe Gate, 1959–1960. Hofmann's presence in New York City and Provincetown as a teacher and as an artist was influential to the development of American painting in the 1930s and 1940s.

    Helen Frankenthaler, Mountains and Sea, 1952. Frankenthaler began to produce stain paintings with oil colors on raw canvas, in 1952. She is one of the originators of the Color Field movement that emerged in the late 1950s.[42]

    Jean-Paul Riopelle, 1951, Untitled, oil on canvas, 54 x 64.7 cm (21 1/4 x 25 1/2 in.), private collection

    Mark George Tobey (December 11, 1890 – April 24, 1976) was an Americanpainter. His densely structured compositions, inspired by Asian calligraphy, resemble Abstract expressionism,[1][2] 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.[3]

    Tobey was an incessant traveler, visiting Mexico, Europe, Palestine, Israel, Turkey, Lebanon, China and Japan. After converting to the Bahá'í 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.

    Early years[edit]

    Tobey was the youngest of four children in a Congregationalist family. His parents were George Tobey, a carpenter and house builder, and Emma Cleveland Tobey. The father carved animals from stone and sometimes drew animals for young Mark to cut out with scissors. In 1893, the family settled in Chicago.[4] He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1906 to 1908, but, like others of the Northwest School, was mostly self-taught. In 1911, he moved to New York City where he worked as a fashion illustrator for McCall's. His first one-man show was held at Knoedler & Company in lower Manhattan, in 1917. The following year, Tobey came in contact with New York portrait artist and Bahá'í Juliet Thompson—an associate of Khalil Gibran—and posed for her. During the session, Tobey read some Bahá'í literature and accepted an invitation to Green Acre where he converted to the Bahá'í faith. His conversion led him to explore the representation of the spiritual in art.[6] In the following years, Tobey delved into works of Arabian literature and teachings of East Asian philosophy.


    Early years[edit]

    Tobey's arrival in Seattle in 1921[3] was in part an effort for a new start following a marriage and quick divorce. When his ex-wife found Tobey's address, she sent him a box of his clothes topped with a copy of Rudyard Kipling's The Light That Failed.[7] In the following year, Tobey met Teng Kuei, a Chinese painter and student at the University of Washington, who introduced Tobey to Eastern penmanship, beginning Tobey’s exploration of Chinese calligraphy. The beginning of his lifelong travels occurred in 1925 when he left for Europe, settling in Paris where Tobey met Gertrude Stein.[7] He spent a winter at Châteaudun, and also traveled to Barcelona and Greece. In Constantinople, Beirut and Haifa, he studied Arab and Persian writing.

    Upon returning to Seattle in 1927, Tobey shared a studio in a house near the Cornish School (with which he was intermittently associated) with the teenage artist, Robert Bruce Inverarity, who was 20 years younger. Inspired by Inverarity's high-school project, Tobey developed interest in three-dimensional form and carved some 100 pieces of soap sculpture. The next year, Tobey co-founded the Free and Creative Art School in Seattle with Edgar Ames, and in autumn, he taught an advanced art course at Emily Carr's Victoria studio.[9]

    In 1929, he participated in a show that marked a change in his life: a solo exhibition at Romany Marie's Cafe Gallery in New York. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., then a curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), saw the show and selected several pictures from it for inclusion in MoMA's 1930 exhibition: Painting and Sculpture by Living Americans. In 1931, Tobey became a resident artist of the Elmhurst Progressive School while teaching at Dartington Hall in Devon and painting frescoes for the school. He became a close friend of Bernard Leach, who was also on the faculty. Introduced by Tobey to the Bahá'í Faith, Leach became a convert. During his stay in Devon, Tobey found time to travel to Mexico (1931), Europe, and Palestine (1932). In 1934, Tobey and Leach traveled together through France and Italy, then sailed from Naples to Hong Kong and Shanghai, where they parted company. Leach went on to Japan, while Tobey remained in Shanghai visiting his old friend, Teng Kuei, before departing for Japan. Japanese authorities confiscated and destroyed an edition of 31 drawings on wet paper that Tobey had brought with him from England to be published in Japan. No explanation for their destruction has been noted; possibly they considered his sketches of nude men pornographic. In early summer, he studied Hai-Ku poetry and calligraphy at a Zenmonastery outside Kyoto before returning to Seattle in autumn.

    Tobey's first solo exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum occurred in 1935; he also traveled to New York, Washington, D.C., Alberta, Canada, as well as Haifa for a Bahá'í pilgrimage. Sometime in November or December, while working at night at Dartington Hall and listening to the horses breathe in the field outside his window, he painted a series of three paintings, ’’Broadway’’, ‘’Welcome Hero’’, and ‘’Broadway Norm’’, in the style that would become known as "white writing" (an interlacing of fine white lines).


    Tobey expected to return to teaching in England in 1938, but the mounting tensions of war building in Europe kept him in the US. Instead, he began to work on the Federal Art Project, under the supervision of Inverarity. In June 1939, when Tobey attended a Bahá'í summer program and overstayed his allotted vacation time, Inverarity dropped him from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. Tobey met the Swedish scholar, Pehr Hallsten (died 1965, Basel), in Ballard in 1939 and they became companions, living together from 1940. By 1942, Tobey's process of abstractionism was accompanied by a new calligraphic experiment. Marian Willard of the Willard Gallery in New York had seen some of Tobey's WPA paintings and gave him a show in 1944, which was considered to be a major success. In 1945, he gave a solo exhibition at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon, and the Arts Club of Chicago held solo shows of his work in 1940 and 1946. He studied the piano and the theory of music with Lockrem Johnson, and, when Johnson was away, with Wesley Wehr, who was introduced to Tobey in 1949 by their pianist friend Berthe Poncy Jacobson. Wehr, an undergraduate at the time, happily accepted the opportunity to serve as a stand-in music composition tutor for Tobey and over time became friends with him and his circle of artists, becoming a painter himself, as well as a chronicler of the group.

    Tobey showed at New York's Whitney Museum in 1951. He also spent three months as guest critic of graduate students’ work at Yale University on the invitation of Josef Albers and had his first retrospective show at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. In 1952, the film “Tobey, Mark: Artist” debuted in the Venice and Edinburgh film festivals. Acknowledging "academic responsibility" Hallsten enrolled in graduate school at the University of Washington's department of Scandinavian languages and literature in the early 1950s and, after receiving his master's degree, Tobey began referring to him by the honorific, Professor.

    On September 28, 1953, Life magazine published an article on Tobey, Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan, and Morris Graves entitled "Mystic Painters of the Northwest" which placed them in the national limelight.[13] The four were considered founders of the Northwest School.[14] He held a solo show at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher in Paris in 1955, and traveled to Basel and Bern. He began his ink wash paintings two years later. In 1958, he became the second American, after James Abbott McNeill Whistler, to win the International Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale.

    Later years[edit]

    Tobey and Hallsten emigrated to Basel, Switzerland in the early 1960s. Tobey, who had been an incessant traveler in earlier years,(Etulain 1996, p. 134) concentrated on his art, while Hallsten felt restless and traveled through Europe, returning to Basel. In 1960, Tobey participated in the Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession, and in the following year, he became the first American painter to exhibit at the Pavillon de Marsan in Paris. Solo exhibits occurred at MoMa in 1962, and at the Stedelijk Museum in 1966, the same year that he visited the Bahá'í World Center in Haifa. In 1967, he showed again at the Willard Gallery, and held a Retrospective show at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts the following year. Another major retrospective of the artist’s work took place at the Smithsonian's National Collection of Fine Arts in 1974. Tobey died in Basel in 1976.


    Tobey is most notable for his creation of so-called "white writing" - an overlay of white or light-colored calligraphic symbols on an abstract field which is often itself composed of thousands of small and interwoven brush strokes. This method, in turn, gave rise to the type of "all-over" painting style made most famous by Jackson Pollock, another American painter to whom Tobey is often compared.[17] Tobey’s work is also defined as creating a vibratory space with the multiple degrees of mobility obtained by the Brownian movement of a light brush on a bottom with the dense tonalities. The series of “Broadway” realized at that time has a historical value of reference today. It precedes a new dimension of the pictorial vision, that of contemplation in the action. His work is inspired by a personal belief system that suggests Oriental influences and reference to Tobey's involvement in the Bahá'í Faith. Four of Tobey's signed lithographs hang in the reception hall in the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing institution of the Bahá'í Faith.


    Tobey, the senior of the 'mystical painters', was an influence on Graves. Tobey studied piano and music theory with John Cage, and thereafter, it was Tobey who had an influence on Cage.Helmi Juvonen, another Northwest School artist, was obsessed with Tobey. She was diagnosed as a manic depressive, and suffered the delusion that she and Tobey were to be married, even though Tobey was gay.[22]

    Elizabeth Bayley Willis showed Tobey's painting Bars and Flails[23] to Jackson Pollock in 1944. Pollock studied the painting closely and then painted Blue Poles, a painting that made history when, in 1973, the Australian government bought it for $2 million. A Pollock biographer wrote: "...[Tobey's] dense web of white strokes, as elegant as Oriental calligraphy, impressed Jackson so much that in a letter to Louis Bunce he described Tobey, a West Coast artist, as an 'exception' to the rule that New York was 'the only real place in America where painting (in the real sense) can come thru."[24] Pollock went to all of Tobey's Willard Gallery shows where Tobey presented small to medium-sized canvases, measuring approximately 33 by 45 inches (840 mm × 1,140 mm). After Pollock viewed them, he went back home and blew them up to 9 by 12 feet (2.7 m × 3.7 m), pouring paint onto the canvas instead of brushing it on. Pollock was never really concerned with diffused light, but he was very interested in Tobey's idea of covering the entire canvas with marks up to and including its edges, something not done previously in American art.[25]


    At least five of his works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Northwest Art.[14] Tobey's work can also be found in most major museums in the U.S. and internationally, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Tate Gallery in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. There have been at least four posthumous individual exhibitions of Tobey's work: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., USA, 1984; Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany, 1989; Galerie Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland, 1990; and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain, November 11, 1997 – January 12, 1998 where the exhibition brought together about 130 works from some 56 different collections, covering the years from 1924 to 1975. Two of Tobey's paintings are in Guggenheim collections.[26][27] A number of his figurative and abstract works are held by the Dartington Hall Trust.[28]

    Anatoma tobeyoides, a species of sea snail, is named in honor of Tobey.



    1. ^Metropolitan Museum of Art
    2. ^bio
    3. ^ abCornish, Nellie C. "Miss Aunt Nellie: The Autobiography of Nellie C. Cornish". Seattle, University of Washington, 1964, p. 134-35
    4. ^"Expositions Mark Tobey". Galerie Jeanne Bucher. Archived from the original on March 2, 2014. Retrieved July 8, 2007. 
    5. ^"Mark Tobey". Namen der Kunst. Retrieved July 8, 2007. 
    6. ^ abAment, Deloris Tarzan (February 16, 2003). "Tobey, Mark (1890-1976): The Old Master of the Young American Painting". The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State University. Retrieved July 8, 2007. 
    7. ^Modernism and Late Totems (1927-1932), Emily Carr: A Biographical Sketch, Vancouver Art Gallery. Accessed 8 January 2013. See also, Appelhof, Ruth Stevens, The Expressionist Landscape: North American Modernist Painting, 1920–1947, Birmingham Museum of Art, 1988, p. 60. ISBN 978-0295966915.
    8. ^"Life magazine sheds limelight on Northwest School painters on September 28, 1953". Essay 5342. 
    9. ^ ab"Mark Tobey 1890 - 1976". Museum of Northwest Art. Archived from the original on June 23, 2007. Retrieved July 8, 2007. 
    10. ^"Review: "Mine are the Orient, the Occident, science, religion, cities, space, and writing a picture."". One Country. 9 (4). January–March 1998. Retrieved July 8, 2007. 
    11. ^Dillon, Mike. "Art for art's sake". South Seattle Beacon. Archived from the original on March 3, 2014. Retrieved March 2, 2014. 
    12. ^"The Collection". Seattle Art Museum. 
    13. ^Long, Priscilla (July 17, 2002). "Mark Tobey paints the first of his influential white-writing style paintings in November or December 1935". Essay 3894. The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History. Retrieved August 30, 2007. 
    14. ^Pickles, Wendy. "Iridescent Light: The Emergence of Northwest - Art Delores Tarzan Ament, Mary Randlett (University of Washington/MONA)". The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities. Retrieved July 8, 2007. 
    15. ^"Trembling Space". Guggenheim. 1961-01-01. Retrieved 2017-02-15. 
    16. ^"Advance of History". Guggenheim. 1964-01-01. Retrieved 2017-02-15. 
    17. ^"Mark Tobey - Dartington". Dartington. Retrieved 2017-02-15. 
    • Cage, John; Retallack, Joan (1 March 2011). MUSICAGE: CAGE MUSES on Words * Art * Music. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0-8195-7186-1. 
    • Heiner Hachmeister (Ed.): Mark Tobey: Light. Space. Muenster: Hachmeister Verlag 2004
    • Heiner Hachmeister (Ed.): Mark Tobey: Werke. Oeuvres. 1945-1975. Muenster: Hachmeister Verlag 1991
    • Cornish, Nellie Centennial (1964). Miss Aunt Nellie: The Autobiography of Nellie C. Cornish. University of Washington Press. 
    • Etulain, Richard W. (1996). Re-imagining the Modern American West: A Century of Fiction, History, and Art. University of Arizona Press. ISBN 978-0-8165-1683-4. 
    • Feininger, Lyonel; Tobey, Mark (2006). Years of friendship, 1944-1956: the correspondence of Lyonel Feininger and Mark Tobey. Hatje Cantz. 
    • Malone, Michael P.; Etulain, Richard W. (1 January 1989). The American West: A Twentieth-century History. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-8167-6. 
    • Nicholls, David (1 August 2002). The Cambridge Companion to John Cage. Cambridge Companions to Music. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-78968-4. 
    • Pearlman, Ellen (24 April 2012). Nothing and Everything - The Influence of Buddhism on the American Avant Garde: 1942 - 1962. North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1-58394-379-3. 
    • Seitz, William Chapin (1 January 1980). Mark Tobey. Arno Press. ISBN 978-0-405-12893-6. 
    • Wehr, Wesley (2000). The Eighth Lively Art: Conversations with Painters, Poets, Musicians & the Wicked Witch of the West. University of Washington Press. ISBN 978-0-295-97956-4. 

    Further reading[edit]

    • Roberts, Colette (1960), Mark Tobey
    • Seitz, William Chapin (1980), Mark TobeyISBN 0405128932
    • Tobey, M., Dahl, Arthur L. (1984), Mark Tobey, art and beliefISBN 9780853981794

    External links[edit]

    Canticle, casein on paper, 1954

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