Nocturnal Energy

Mark Tobey, Night Flight, 1956, Tempera on cardboard, 11 7/8 x 9 in., Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Beyeler Collection © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

“You can’t just look at Klees. They must be absorbed on multiple levels.”—Mark Tobey

One of the older members of the Abstract Expressionist circle, Mark Tobey had a special relationship with Paul Klee that stemmed from his strong grounding in Asian calligraphy and aesthetics. His study of Chinese calligraphy and philosophy (first from a Chinese student in Seattle and later while living in a Zen monastery in Kyoto), combined with his Bahá’í faith, led to his development of a delicate, linear calligraphic style. Tobey applied his signature “white writing” technique in his mesmerizing Night Flight. Using densely layered networks of white pigment against a dark ground, Tobey creates lines suggestive of nocturnal energy and movement.

This work is on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee through May 6, 2018.

Tuesday Tunes: A Playlist for Gene Davis

Taking inspiration from the major theme of music in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee, we paired 11 staff members with 11 works from the exhibition and asked them to create a playlist in response to their individual artwork. Kathryn Rogge, Manager of Academic Programs & Phillips Music, created her playlist in response to Gene Davis’s “Black Flowers.”

Gene Davis, Black Flowers, 1952, Oil on hardboard, 36 1/8 x 24 1/4 in., The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Anonymous gift, 1974 © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Black Flowers got me thinking about polyphonics (multiple voices), with each of the flower stems stretching vertically like an individual voice raising to the sky in song. While polyphonic texture extends to ancient and sacred music from all over the world, it may be found in any composition with overlapping melodies in counterpoint. The “voices” in a polyphonic piece can either be sung by a single voice in overlapping recordings (like Mouth’s Cradle), multiple voices (a whopping 40 voices appear in Spem in Alium) or played on instruments (such as Fables of Faubus); or in this case, painted into the long, slender stems of Gene Davis’s black flowers to create a tension and rising movement evocative of the songs on this list.

Kathryn Rogge, Manager of Academic Programs & Phillips Music

Feeling inspired? Create your own playlist based around works in the exhibition and send it to us at and we may feature it on our blog and social media.

The Sacrifice of Kronos

Theodoros Stamos, The Sacrifice of Kronos, No. 2, 1948, Oil on hardboard, 48 x 36 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1949 © Estate of Theodoros Stamos, New York

Sacrifice of Kronos, No. 2 by Theodoros Stamos, along with his Sacrifice of Kronos and Saga of Ancient Alphabets (all on view in Ten Americans), allude to the interconnected realms of nature, myth, and ancient culture that figure prominently in Stamos’s art. Based on a Greek myth, Sacrifice of Kronos is inspired by the dramatic story of Kronos, king of the Titans, who consumes his children to prevent the fulfillment of a prophesy that one of them will grow up to usurp his throne. When his wife wraps a stone in clothing to fool Kronos into thinking it was their newborn son Zeus, Titan consumes the stone. Rather than showing the eventual fate of Titan dethroned by Zeus, Stamos evokes the moment of sacrifice with the presence of a fetal-like form trapped under the weight of the massive boulder. While more commanding in scale than works by Klee, Stamos’s painting, with its metaphorical allusions to broader themes of birth, death, power, and sacrifice, are reminiscent of Klee’s quest to uncover universal aspects of human experience.

This work is on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee through May 6, 2018.