Dance of The Ancients
#558 Acrylic on linen 54 x 52
This painting is one of a number in which Tobey combined realistic imagery with elements of his curvilinear creations. The "dance" is meant to symbolize man's continuous rebellion against the inevitable deterioration of the life process. The dancers, although apparently old in their masks, attempt to defy death with their dance, akin to the use of Chinese Dragon masks in oriental tradition.
Latin American Influence
Alton and his wife Rosalyn had an insatiable desire for adventure, particularly when it came to newly discovered archaeological ruins and remote primitive cultures, especially in South and Central America.
A few of the artifacts and souvenirs collected by the Tobeys during their Latin America visits
Explorations in the remote corners of Mexico during their more than 52 trips, combined with research spent in Peru, Guatemala and beyond left an indelible impression on Tobey, and would emerge in many aspects of his artistic creations -- either subtly or in full expression. Their home was a treasure trove of Latin American artifacts, both ancient and modern, which they had acquired in the course of their many journeys south of the border.
Tobey was fond of saying: "Each time Roz goes to Mexico she single-handedly increases the country's GNP!" Roz loved the artifacts and crafts so much that without fail, every one of her friends, family members and students would receive a gift or souvenir upon her return from each trip.
Tobey in a Tikal costume
The influence of the great chieftains of Tikal, in whom Tobey was deeply immersed during his research and study for the commissions from LIFE for Epic of Man, won him grand prize for his costume at an annual New York City masquerade ball. About the event, he recounted: "My normal 5-foot, 6-inch stature was greatly over compensated for; so that no one could miss my presence even in this sardine-packed crowd!" To the right is a detail from his painting that inspired the costume.
On the right above is a painting that was part of his collage period of the 1950's where a Mexican theme was cheerfully created with straw, string, rope, a colorful blanket and paint; cleverly composed together. The components seem to disappear and only the subjects of the scene are noticed, unless one carefully observes the detail.
#053. Oil on canvas 42 x 24
#023. Oil on canvas 22 x 38
#019. Oil on canvas 28 x 34
The artist Frida Kahlo began to paint in 1925 while recovering from a streetcar accident that left her permanently disabled. Many of her 200 paintings directly relate to her experiences with physical pain. They also chronicle her turbulent relationship with artist Diego Rivera. During her lifetime, Kahlo did not enjoy the same level of recognition as the great artists of Mexican muralism, Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros. However, today Kahlo's work is critically and monetarily as prized as that of her male peers, sometimes more so.
Greatly influenced by the story of Frieda and Diego, (about ten years before the motion picture about them was released), Tobey felt compelled to express her life as a tribute, and also as a cathartic reaction for the pain he himself felt for her suffering. The three paintings above address this story.
#030. Oil on canvas 52 x 40
#035. Oil on canvas 48 x 36
The center photo above shows Tobey and his wife Rosalyn as featured guests for the second time on Mexico's equivalent of the Today show, discussing his work in conjunction with one of the many exhibitions of his paintings in that country. To the left and right are two of the paintings that were featured works in that show.
#558. Oil on canvas
52 x 40
#069. Oil on canvas, 38 x 60
#083. Acrylic on
canvas, 34 x 28
The paintings above show Tobey's involvement with Day of the Dead celebrations and other ceremonial observances, dances and festivities that went along with them. In these three "Spirit Dance" paintings, Tobey marries his representationalism with his curvilinear abstract style and uses the curvilinear figures to show the ghostly musician joining along with the masked and costume-clad corporeal figures, as they ceremoniously conduct the special festivities. The painting in the center takes the spirit aspect to an additional dimension by the subtle depiction of an ancient wise man, diffusely but powerfully present in a state of deep contemplation, as if holding the sacred space for the ceremony. The third of the spirit dance shown above (far right) is completely in the curvilinear style, but this time is built up as a bas-relief using solid materials, string and metal.
Photo on plywood
54 X 40
Photo & acrylic on particle board
40 X 64
Photo on plywood
64 X 40
The three examples above show Tobey's 1980's series of monochromatic two-dimensional collages that incorporated imagery from ancient South and Central American civilizations, embellished with graphic elements derived from his curvilinear paintings.
#575 Acrylic on canvas
80 x 100
#587 Oil on canvas
60 x 72
As a necessary step in his research for a commission from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, Tobey was sent to Peru for 3 months to study all aspects of the culture and to gather visual material for his mural. Of special interest to him was the study of the unique facial qualities of the natives. His paintings displayed some of the most authentic and unmixed representation of what Incans atop Macchu Picchu would have looked like centuries ago.
In the years to come, greatly influenced by his Peruvian studies and experiences, bold, dynamic and colorful canvases would emerge as homages to his appreciation and his love of this culture and its musical and artistic forms.
#039 Oil on canvas 62 x 48
Zapata, above, is one of many portraits of famous and infamous Mexican historical figures that Tobey would paint during the course of his career.
#055 Oil on canvas 40 x 34
#030 Oil on canvas 44 x 38
This lovely Mexican child was commissioned by her father, Santiago who became a dear friend of the Tobey family from an unlikely encounter. Alton and Rosalyn's adventures in an unearthed Guatemalan ruin in the early 80's led to a fateful meeting atop a remote pyramid that was only accessible by foot or horseback. It was here that the Tobeys met Gabriella and Santiago, a couple who would remain dear friends for life and who would become part of their many new adventures in Latin America for over two decades.
Tobey is shown above in 1998 at his last one-man retrospective exhibition in Mexico City. It featured representative selections from his diverse career -- covering many styles and subjects, with an emphasis on his murals.
"For a long time the study of pre-Columbian Art and its cultures has absorbed me. My art incorporates elements of this study intertwined with non-objective patterns to express a sense of the power and mystery of the worlds that our twentieth century vision can only dimly perceive.
"The thematic content is pre-Columbian. Aztec, Maya, Mixtec, Zapotec, Olmec, Toltec, Huastec are a few of these cultures."
--- Alton Tobey
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