The visualization of night and light evolved in the art of Mark Tobey in the early 1940s from what was for him a heightened sensitivity to the impulses of the modern world. His motivation, he declared, was to paint something felt, not something seen: the energies of the modern city at night, for instance, and those indefinable force fields whose radiance is only detected in the dark, sparkling energies that, while potentially explosive, might also suggest human intellectual and spiritual enlightenment. Tobey’s distinctive approach to painting came to be called “white writing”—an obsessive, dense, calligraphic style that seems akin to ancient symbolic expression, like characters scratched into the surfaces of black obsidian or clay tablets. Tobey’s white lines on dark surfaces perfectly convey forces that are familiar to us all—like meteor showers in the night sky, for example—and that we appreciate as some of the most ravishing and mysterious occurrences in nature.

Mark Tobey, White Writing with Patricia Junker

Members Art History Lecture Series: New Perspectives
February 22, 2012
7:00–9:00 pm
Plestcheeff Auditorium, SAM downtown

SOLD OUT

White Night, 1942, Mark Tobey (American, 1890–1976), tempera on paperboard mounted on composition board, 22 ¼ x 14 in., Gift of Mrs. Berthe Poncy Jacobson, 62.78. Photo: Paul Macapia, © Mark Tobey Estate/Seattle Art Museum. Currently on view in the Modern American art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.
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