Tobey, a follower of Zen philosophy, believed that spiritual awakening could take place through everyday encounters. In The Void Devouring the Gadget Era, translucent tempera wash partially obscures a dense backdrop of fragmented symbols. Two years later, Tobey cleared his paintings of iconography and created allover patterns that resist a single focal point. Cage purchased one of these works shortly after its completion in 1944. He recalled that after leaving the gallery, “I happened to look at the pavement, and I noticed that the experience . . . was the same as the experience of looking at the Tobey.”
Cage met Tobey in Seattle in the late 1930s, and he credited him for heightening his awareness of the phenomena that exist in ordinary occurrences. In his writings, Cage described a walk to a Japanese restaurant that extended over many hours as Tobey was “constantly stopping and pointing out things to see, opening my eyes.”
Gallery label from There Will Never Be Silence: Scoring John Cage’s 4’33”, October 12, 2013–June 22, 2014.