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White writing


Marc Tobey est initié à ses secrets dès 1926 par un jeune peintre chinois qui lui fait entrevoir qu'un arbre "n'est plus un solide mais un rythme une ligne croissant".
Mark Tobey, Escape from Static, 1968

While reading a book by Geneviève Bonnefoi (les années fertiles sur le vif) I discovered the birth of Marc Tobey's 'white writing'. I'll let you read the passage that guides me ever more towards the movement of my being through my hand.


"It was Van Gogh, with his visionary spirit, who best foresaw what could become of this painting, freed from the constraints of drawing and living solely from its inner life. We know what a revelation the discovery of Japanese art was for him, and how he too began to paint "quickly, one after the other, canvases made quickly but calculated for a long time in advance". It was through him that the two great currents of pictorial writing came together: the Western and the Eastern. The former is embodied in the paste and does not disdain the seductions of colour; the latter is more austere, more abstract, linked to very specific formal means of which Indian ink remains the primordial element. Both were committed to capturing and restoring movement, one in its immediate and fleeting brilliance, the other in its eternal essence.

Their fusion would not really come to fruition until half a century later, when a Western painter rediscovered Oriental calligraphy. Marc Tobey was introduced to its secrets in 1926 by a young Chinese painter who showed him that a tree "is no longer a solid but a rhythm, a growing line". This teaching, together with a visit to Japan a few years later, made him aware of the possibilities of an art that differed radically from Western conceptions. Writing painting, whether coloured or in neutral tones, became a necessity", he noted in 1935, contrasting this notion with the bâtir of traditional painters.

This gave rise to the famous "white writing" that soon filled the pictorial space. But curiously, despite his Eastern-inspired religiosity, it was in the bustle and lights of Broadway that Tobey found the themes for his first works...".

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