In the 1920s, Tack began his most daring ventures into abstraction, works that united tradition and modernism in a striking manner. Tack achieved a remarkable grandeur and subtlety in the series of paintings he produced between about 1922 and 1924. Their formats derive from both European and Asian decorative traditions, exemplified in works such as Voice of Many Waters that echoes Asian scroll painting on a large scale. In addition, Biblical symbolism became important themes in many of his abstract works, such as here, in Voice of Many Waters, where the subject is from the Book of Revelations. Tack began with New Testament subjects and gradually turned to more universal evocations of matter and spirit.
The western terrain found its way into Tack’s imagery in the 1922-24 series. Tack’s first view of the Rocky Mountains in the summer of 1920 permanently reoriented his approach to painting and provided a setting majestic enough to suggest a divine realm. In the West, the artist could infuse the natural grandeur with implications of a broader spiritual and philosophical meaning—an approach Tack, like his nineteenth-century forebears, adopted in the dematerialized shapes and fragmentary mountain forms of Voice of Many Waters.
Rather than sketching or painting on site, he appears to have devised his towering mountain forms from those of earlier works such as The Crowd (1921-22). He freely rearranged, enlarged, and reconfigured these earlier conceptions, creating the basis of a complex new imagery. The irregular, ragged forms of Voice of Many Waters suggest a source in enlarged photographs, as light and shadow play over the contours of landscape. This becomes an early example of Tack using of photography to obtain distorted yet still nature - derived forms.
Tack's startling innovations—the use of photography, the free reconfiguring of his own earlier imagery, the melding of human and landscape forms--are balanced by the singular material richness and aestheticism of his chromatic harmonies, surface treatment, mounting, and framing. He achieved a gossamer delicacy by enhancing his surfaces, scumbling them with a brush or roller, scraping back paint layers to reveal underpainting, and accenting the canvas texture. The burnishing and layering often extended to the frames.
The ambitious scale of Voice of Many Waters indicates Tack's great assurance at the height of his career. A triangular grassy knoll fills the left foreground, as if extending the viewer's space into the picture. A waterfall cascades from a mountain face of peaks and crags, creating, in Phillips's words, a "vision of serenity, transcending time and change." The drama is emphasized by the painting's extreme vertical format.
The Western paintings were the focus of Tack's first solo exhibition at Phillips's museum in 1924, inaugurating the spacious lower library, now the Music Room, for public exhibitions. Phillips pronounced the show "a howling success" with both press and public. "A room decorated by Tack," he wrote, "is a place where the spirits and the senses are wonderfully reconciled, and where life takes on new meanings."