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Exhibition of works from 1945 to 1974 by Mark Tobey featured in exhibition at Moeller Fine Art
Mark Tobey, Arena of Civilization, 1947. Tempera on board, 35.6 x 49.5 cm (14 x 19 ½ in.). Photo: Courtesy Moeller Fine Art Berlin – New York.

BERLIN.- Moeller Fine Art Berlin announces "mark tobey: between east and west," the gallery's second exhibition in Berlin devoted to the work of Mark Tobey (1890–1976). Spanning the years 1945 to 1974, the exhibition aims to show the breadth of the oeuvre of a pioneering Abstract Expressionist. Twenty-five paintings, watercolors, drawings and prints trace the development of the artist's style through varied techniques as he drew on global influences to create an unmistakably virtuosic visual language.

Tobey was born in Centerville, Wisconsin in 1890, and studied early on at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1918, he converted to the Baha’i faith, whose teachings emphasize the oneness of all religions, people, and aspects of the world and had a profound effect on his work. After spending time at both the Cornish School and Seattle’s Free and Creative Art School (which he co-founded), Tobey worked intermittently from 1931 to 1937 at Dartington Hall in England. A 1944 exhibition at the Willard Gallery in New York proved decisive for Tobey, as he met Lyonel Feininger (1871–1956), and developed a close friendship with the American -German artist. Tobey's Aerial City (1950) included in Moeller Fine Art's exhibition, was part of Feininger’s personal collection. After his initial success, Tobey’s work was honored in numerous exhibitions, including a 1961 exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the Paris Louvre and a 1962 exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Tobey then took part in Documenta II and III, and was represented several times at the Venice Biennale, winning the International Painting Prize in 1958. In 1960, he moved to Basel, where he lived until his death in 1976.

Tobey's work accesses the essential sympathy of Eastern and Western art: “[My sources] are the Orient, the Occident, science, religion, cities, space, and writing a picture instead of building it up in the Renaissance tradition,” he wrote. As early as 1934, Tobey traveled through China and Japan, which would prove the foundation of his mature work. “It was there that I got what I call the calligraphic impulse to carry my work on into some new dimensions . . . With this method I found that I could paint the frenetic rhythms of the modern city, the interweaving lights and the streams of people who are entangled in the mesh of this net.”

By the late 1930s, Tobey had developed an abstract calligraphy, known as “white writing,” for which he is most celebrated, along with notions of “multiple space” and “moving focus.” These techniques destroyed the “hole in the wall” effect of Renaissance perspective (a description offered by Teng Kuei), and envisioned the work as a series of spaces, each with its own focal point. Together, these multiple spaces formed a compound composition, unified by calligraphic forms scattered all over the surface. Tobey was literally writing while painting, and at the same time offering a radical departure from the regular planes of Cubism and Expressionism. In 1954, he wrote to Katherine Kuh “Already in New York in 1919 I began to react to the Renaissance sense of space and order. I felt keenly that space should be freer. As I remember, I wanted to smash form, to melt it in a more moving and dynamic way.”

In 1957, Tobey saw black forms as the logical complement to white, and shifted his focus to painting in Sumi ink. Moeller Fine Art's exhibition includes three such explosive and radiant works, created by the strokes and gestures of ink on Japan paper. The works of Tobey's later years, spent in Basel in close connection to Ernst Beyeler, pursued this inherent fluidity of media, typified by lyrical, nearly translucent monotypes in gouache on Japan paper. Several fine examples of this type are included in the exhibition, which in many respects bring together the many, varied veins of the artist's work.

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