I have to say I was a little skeptical about this show at the Seattle Art Museum. It’s not that I doubt the quality of the shows at SAM, but I have a little bias against Mark Tobey. In her book, Art of Emily Carr, Doris Shadbolt says of Tobey: ” American artist Mark Tobey claimed credit for inspiring Carr’s “great swirling canvases, [and] wonderful tree forms,”
Never mind. Emily was above all the fray. Her comment on Tobey: “He is clever, but he has no soul.”
We can forgive the hubris. The man’s contribution to modernism is significant. The art critic, Clement Greenberg, gave Tobey credit for inventing the overall gestural painting style….not Jackson Pollock! As was the case with the artist Robert Irwin in California, and Emily Carr in Victoria, Tobey’s location in Seattle prevented him from becoming a household name like Jackson Pollock. The abstract expressionists in New York got all the buzz.
Modernism in the Pacific Northwest also highlighted the work of Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan and Guy Anderson. The art is strong, and rooted in deeply held personal philosophies.
The curators at SAM did an excellent job of explaining the historical significance of the these painters. They made it clear how the art was firmly rooted in the political and philosophical movements of the time.