Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mark Tobey v. Jackson Pollock

In an art publication, I read that Jackson Pollock, the famous abstract expressionist painter known for his "drip style," took great pains to deny that his work was influenced by the work of Mark Tobey. Evidence suggests otherwise.

Before describing the evidence, let me introduce you to Mark Tobey (1890-1976). If the name sounds familiar, I referred to him in last week's blog as one of the four "Mystical Painters of the Northwest" and a founder of the Northwest School (of art style).

As a young man, Tobey had converted to the Ba'hai faith. The study of his faith, as well as his travels through Europe and the Orient, led to his interest in Asian arts.
He studied haiku (Japanese essential poetry), Japanese brushwork, and Chinese, Arab and Persian calligraphy. He also stayed for awhile in a Zen monastery. In time, all of these experiences would influence his art and not only lead to abstract art work, but also to what Tobey referred to as "white writing."

Tobey experimented with combining painting and calligraphy for spiritual meaning. He would overlay the painting with white (or another light color) in an interwoven brush stroke style. His method would give rise to what is known as an "all-over" painting style.(His "Broadway" painting on right.)

Now, dear reader, back to Pollock... ...evidence shows that Pollock attended every exhibition of Tobey's paintings. Often, Pollock would attend an exhibit and then return to his studio and create a very large all-over canvas mural. Below on the left is a Tobey painting and on the right is a Pollock. What do you think? Do you think Pollock really was influenced by Tobey?


  1. Very interesting!!! Maybe subconsciously he mimicked Tobey, but did not accept that fact on a conscious level? Our minds are strange and wonderful things. I do like their work.

  2. It sure looks like that to me.

  3. I agree! Looks like Tobey's work was Pollock's inspiration. Georgia

  4. Another side of Pollock to think about. Thanks!

  5. Pollock and Tobey might have used similar pallettes and techniques however their approach and back ground philosophy towards painting are very, very different. While Tobey believed in the unity of mankind and had a meditative and more international approach to his expression, Pollock was way more aggressive and more "American".

  6. And don't forget Janet Sobel's drip paintings. tobey's 'all over' style and Sobel's drip style contributed to make what Pollock has become. Pollock attended exhibitions where both Sobel and Tobey exhibited
    -- santanu borah, India