Thursday, July 19, 2012

Seattle Art Museum: Northwest Mystics and Aboriginal Art

I have cool book at home called Sounds of the Inner Eye: John Cage, Mark Tobey, Morris GravesIt explores the artistic and biographical connection among the three Pacific Northwest artists.  Known as the Northwest Mystics, Cage, Tobey and Graves were influenced by Eastern philosophies and the natural beauty of the Pacific Rim.  About 7 or 8 years ago, before I started to learn how to play music, I took up an interest in abstract art and Eastern philosophies which led to my discovery of these artists and my purchase of this book, which I think was originally published in relation to a 2002 exhibit in Tacoma, WA.

That Sounds of the Inner Eye book has been on the shelf for a few years now (I need to get it out again!), but when I was in Seattle recently for a conference it occurred to me that I was at the center of where this mystical art was made in the 30's, 40's and 50's.  A quick check on my smart phone verified that the Seattle Art Museum was only 4 or 5 blocks away, so I snuck over there during a break.  I was hoping they would have some of this visionary art.

Out of the three artists profiled in Sounds of the Inner Eye, Mark Tobey is my favorite.  To give you an example, while standing on a street corner waiting for a bus after visiting an exhibit of Tobey's white-writing paintings, John Cage "noticed that the experience of looking at the pavement was the same as the experience as looking at the Tobey.  Exactly the same.  The aesthetic enjoyment was just as high".  Tobey's paintings have opened my eyes in a similar way, causing me to look for art in unexpected places, so I was excited at the prospect of seeing some of his work.

As I approached the Seattle Art Museum I was surprised to see a banner for its current Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art exhibit.  I had no idea this was going on but I immediately wondered if the exhibit included anything by Emily Kngwarreye?  That interest I developed in abstract art 7 or 8 years ago led me to Australian Aboriginal art, particularly the work of Emily Kngwarreye whose "dreaming" paintings bear an uncanny resemblance to (and are the artistic equivalent of) the great New York school of abstract expressionists like Kandinsky, Rothko, Pollock and de Kooning.   

Kngwarreye did not take up painting until she was 78, but once she started she was incredibly prolific, producing more than 3,000 paintings by the time she died at age 86.  A lot more can be said about Kngwarreye in a future post, but the good news is that the museum did have works by Tobey, Graves and Kngwarreye on display! (I didn't notice any John Cage visual art, but I did get to see some of his "smoked" works at the University of Richmond a couple years ago).  Enough words...here are some selected visual images of the art by Tobey, Graves, Kngwarreye and Cage. 
Mark Tobey

Mark Tobey
Mark Tobey
Mark Tobey
Emily Kngwarreye
Emily Kngwarreye
Emily Kngwarreye
Emily Kngwarreye
John Cage
John Cage

John Cage
John Cage

Morris Graves
Morris Graves
Morris Graves
Morris Graves
This experience may have rekindled my interest in art as well as Eastern philosophies.  Expect more on those topics in the future.  Please take a moment to comment on these images - similarities, differences, what you like/dislike about them.  Thanks!

3 comments:

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  2. I recently saw a piece in the latest "Art News" about the northwest school of modernism.
    Tobey and Graves are amount those painters in the exhibit. I too am fascinated by their relationship to spiritualism and alagory in their work. This in turn lead me to you post. Thank you!
    John cage has always been an inspiration as well. His experimental printmaking should be seen by any serious printmaker today.

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  3. i first saw 'spring witht a machine age noise', the first painting by morris graves in the above scroll (after the paintings by john cage), in the exhibition 'art, usa, now' in dublin in sixties. the huge painting bowled me over and inspired most of my abstract expressionist works, including the cover illustrations of 'jonathan bull's northern irish tracts', and jonathan bower's novels, 'in love in alexandria', and 'african aftermath'.
    you can view these derivative works on the book pages of amazon.com.
    very interested to hear that graves lived in ireland for a short time!

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