Quotes by Mark Tobey
Our ground today is not so much the national or the regional ground as it is the understanding of this single earth. The earth has been round for some time now, but not in man’s relation to man, nor in the understanding of the arts of each as a part of that roundness. As usual we have occupied ourselves too much with the outer, the objective, at the expense of the inner world wherein tie true roundness lies.. .America more than any other country is placed geographically to lead in this understanding., and if from past methods of behaviour she has constantly looked towards Europe, today she must assume her position, Janus-faced, toward Asia, for in not too long a time the waves of the Orient shall wash heavily upon her shores. All this is deeply related with her growth in the arts, particularly upon the Pacific slopes. Of this I am aware. Naturally my work will reflect such a condition and so it is not surprising to me when an Oriental responds to a painting of mine as well as an American or an European..
- Quote from Fourteen Americans, Mark Tobey, exhibition catalogue MOMA New York, 1946, p. 70
Every artist’s problem today is: What will we do with the human?
Quote from exhibition catalogue, Mark Tobey, 1951, as cited in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p.13
An artist must find his expression closely linked to his individual experience or else follow in the old grooves resulting in lifeless forms.
Mark Tobey Retrospective Exhibition, New York, Whitney Museum, 1951
Reality must be expressed by a physical symbol.
Bahai lecture, New York, October 30, 1951; as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 10
We all feel a separateness; we wish that a drop of water would soften our ego; the world needs a common conscience: agreement.. ..we must concentrate outside ourselves.
Quote from Tobey’s Bahai lecture, 1951; as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, pp. 66/67
England collapses, turns Chinese with English and American thoughts. Thousands of Chinese characters are turning and twisting; every door is a shop. The rickshaws jostle the vendors, their backs hung with incredible loads. The narrow streets are alive in a way that Broadway isn’t alive. Here all is human, even the beasts of burden. The human energy spills itself in multiple forms, writhes, sweats and strains every muscle towards the day’s bowl of rice. The din is terrific.
Reminiscence and Reverie, Mark Tobey, Magazine of Art, 44, (October 1951) pp. 230
I am accused often of too much experimentation.. ..but what else should I do when all other factors of man are in the same condition. I thrust forward into space as science and the rest do.
Tobey’s quote from an exhibition catalogue, Palace of the Legion of Honor, 1951; as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 46
My first lesson in relativity: ..we had a still life set-up to paint. Suddenly I saw that the pitcher was so big [his hands outside the shape of a pitcher, then close in] and the glass was so big. From that time on everything was all right.
[Tobey is remembering his Saturday morning painting class]A Tobey Profile, quoted by Belle Krasne, Art Digest, 26 Oct. 15, 1951
Now it seems to me that we are in a universalising period.. .If we are to have world peace, we should have an understanding of all the idioms of beauty because the members of humanity who have created these idioms of beauty are going to be a part of us. And I would say that we are in a period when we are discovering and becoming acquainted with these idioms for the first time.
Modern Artists in America, R. Motherwell, A. Reinhardt and B. Karpel, First series, New York 1952, p. 28
Quotes from: Reminiscence and Reverie, Mark Tobey, Magazine of Art, 44, October 1951, pp. 228, 229; as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983
On the third floor of Manning’s Coffee Shop in the Farmer’s Market in Seattle confronting the Sound, the windows are opaque with fog. Sitting here in the long deserted room, I feel suspended enveloped by a white silence. Two floors below, the farmers are bending over their long rows of fruit and vegetables; washing and arranging their produce under intense lights shaded by circular green shades. Above, where I sit, the world seems obliterated from all save memory; abstracted without the feeling of being divorced from one’s roots. My eye keeps focusing upon the opaque windows [an equivalent of the picture plane]. Suddenly the vision is disturbed by the shape of a gull floating silently across the width of the window, a line of movement drawn across the picture surface. Then space again. In opposing lines to the gull’s flight, the Sound moves northward through the Inland Passage.. .It is true that trains run daily out of Seattle to points East and South, but my mind takes but little cognizance of this fact. To me Seattle seems pocketed. There is only one way out: Alaska, toward the North! Swerving to the South, there is the Orient, although in San Francisco I feel the Orient rolling in with its tides. My imagination, it would seem, has its own geography. pp. 45, 46
I have just had my first lesson in Chinese brush from my friend and artist Teng Kwei. The tree is no more solid in the earth, breaking into lesser solids in the earth, breaking into lesser solids bathed in chiaroscuro. There is pressure and release. Each movement, like tracks in the snow, is recorded and often loved for itself. The Great Dragon is breathing sky, thunder and shadow; wisdom and spirit vitalized. All is in motion now.. .One step backward into the past and the tree in front of my studio in Seattle is all rhythm, lifting, springing upward. p. 66
Two men dressed in white jeans with white caps on their heads.. ..climbing over a large sign of white letters. Of course, the words spell something, but that is unimportant. What is important is their white, and the white of the letters.
It is Fall. The leaves are being raked under the great elms darkening in the evening light. Slowly they become weighted with darkness. Across the river they are burning the grass on the Minnesota bluffs. Myriads of colored streamers reflect in the river blow. p. 230
We look at the mountain to see the painting, then we look at the painting to see the mountain. p. 231
I have many ideas for lights. I will paint only lights at night. [on the twinkling city-lights]
Quote from Tobey’s letter to the cubist painter Feininger, 1955
White lines in movement symbolize a unifying idea which flows through the compartmented units of life bringing the consciousness of a larger relativity.
Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983,
p. 39: Statement concerning his painting ‘Threading Light’
At a time when experimentation expresses itself in all forms of life, search becomes the only valid expression of the spirit.
As quoted in Willem de Kooning, MOMA Bull, pp. 7, 6
The Cubists used the figure, but they broke it up.. .But there was escape, too, even in those days, for there was Whistler living in the grey mists with a faded orange moon. The nocturne transformed itself into dreamy rooms with Chopin’s music creating a mood that softened the hard core of self.
[quote from conversation with Seitz]In: ‘Reminiscence and Reverie’, Mark Tobey, Magazine of Art, 44, October 1951, pp. 228, 231
We have tried to fit man into abstraction, but he does not fit.
Statement in his Bahai lecture, Oct 30, 1951, as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 104
There has been 32 isms since the advent of Cubism, yet after all there are essentially the same two old strings, the Romantic and the Classical. We’ve just be confused by the storm. Science and psychology have played a great part to say nothing of sex.
The Tigers Eye 1, Mark Tobey, 1952; as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 103