Tobey in New York

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1744, Pi, acrylic on paper, 2012

Q: OK, you sort of jumped around back there.   I thought we were heading toward something about Pollack, then suddenly we were on Mark Tobey.

ReeL: Tobey did influence Jackson Pollack.  Pollack himself says he saw the two shows of Tobey’s white writing work shows in New York City.

Right after this Pollack incorporates two aspects of Tobey’s white writing work into his own paintings.

First he shifts from 

doing his abstractions where he fits all the shapes and colors and lines together by juxtaposition, like a jigsaw puzzle, that is, so that you have clear side-by-side shape relationships and clear figure and ground, to the annihilated figure-ground of Tobey, where marks are just piled up on top of each other, no real shapes anymore.

Second, he adopts Tobey’s all-over visual texture with a slight thinning toward the edges like Tobey’s. These two shifts are extremely important historically, for if Pollack had not already adopted these two visual devices of the Tobey White Writing work, using a brush to literally throw the paint across the canvas would not have been recognized as anything. It only works if you have an image that is layered and built with marks built up on  top of each other and with a composition organization that is pretty much operating like an open field.  Only at this point can a thrown stream of paint not violate your overall visual organization, but instead reinforce it.

So I see Tobey’s influence on Pollack as essential, even though Tobey was really working from a very different visual and historical context than Pollack.


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