Mark Tobey was born in 1890 in Centerville, Washington. As a young man, he went to Chicago, where he attended the Chicago Art Institute and worked as an illustrator. He moved to New York’s Greenwich Village in 1911 and began painting portraits, however, after a short time he gave it up and turned to decorating screens and lamps.
In 1918, Tobey converted to the Baha’i World Faith and this, combined with his later studies of Zen Buddhism, formed the philosophical basis for the majority of his work. Tobey went to Seattle, Washington in 1923 to teach art and, eventually, Seattle became his home. There, he was exposed to the art of Oriental calligraphy.
In 1931 Tobey took the job of artist-in- residence at Dartington Hall, a progressive school in England, where he met intellectual leaders Aldous Huxley and Rabindranath Tagore. He went to the Far East in 1934, studied brush painting in Shanghai and then went on to Japan. He stayed for a month at a Zen Buddhist monastery, meditating and studying calligraphy. This visit was the turning point for his artistic thinking and he returned home, convinced that “we have to know both worlds, the Western and the Oriental”. To connect the two, he developed his white writing calligraphy, looping skeins of light paint against a dark field, filling space with movement and depth.
Tobey produced most of his prints in the years just before his death, from 1973-1975. These include a number of lithographs and etchings, among them, “The Scroll of Libery” (1973), “The Grand Parade” (1974), “Psaltery First Form” (1974), and “Raissance of a Flower” (1975), to name a few. Tobey moved to Basel, Switzerland in 1960. He continued to live and paint there until his death in 1976.