Do you know Josef Albers?

I have always been a fan of the series Homage to a Square by Joseph Albers. I love the simple minimalist appeal,  but must admit that I know little about the artist.  I don’t necessarily believe in signs but when something like these amazing pieces of art keep popping up in my life, I feel as though I must look into the art a little. You see back in April when I went to San Francisco for my birthday, I saw this painting by Albers at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art:

Then this month when I received by copy of Atomic Ranch (my favorite home magazine), there is an article about the home of Jim Kelly and Rick Kay from Cincinnati and this beautiful photo of their master bedroom featuring to pieces from the Homage to a Square series. (the pic is a little icky from having to scan it)

I felt like these two run ins with this series in such a short period of time were trying to tell me something so I decided to do a little research about Albers. Here is what I found out:

Joseph Albers was born to a family of artisans in Bottrop Germany and inherited a family tradition of careful, exact workmanship. As a young man, the works of Cézanne, Matisse, and Cubism inspired him. From 1913 to 1920, he studied art in Berlin and in Munich, but his most significant education took place in Weimar, Germany at the Bauhaus, an association of artists, craftsmen, and architects committed to a creed of merging craft techniques with creative aspects of fine art. As a student, he became renowned for stained glass designs that he created from broken bottles and fragments he found at the city dump.

Josef Albers, Table for anteroom to Director's Office, Weimar Bauhaus, 1923

Beginning in 1923, he became a Bauhaus teacher and taught furniture design, drawing, and calligraphy. He helped guide the Bauhaus away from expressionism and towards a constructivist art in the service of architecture. This was achieved through an extreme reduction in form to a lapidary, geometric idiom. During this time, Albers contributed significantly to the development of industrial design. His working philosophy was to build carefully and meticulously with sturdy materials from a base of simple, fundamental forms too increasingly complex shapes. In 1933, Albers and his associates dissolved the Bauhaus because of Nazi pressure. He and his wife moved to America, where he spent the next sixteen years as head of the art department at the newly established, Black Mountain College, New Carolina, an experimental school operating with the principle that fine art integrated all learning.

Josef Albers, Untitled, 1921 Glass, wire, and metal, set in a metal frame.

Although he disavowed style category labels, he is credited with influencing the movements of Geometric Abstraction and Minimalism. He was also one of the first modern artists to investigate the psychological effects of color and space and to question the nature of perception. Indicative of the impact of his work is the fact that he was the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Josef Albers, Stacking tables, ca. 1926 Wood veneer and painted glass.

In addition to painting, printmaking, and executing murals and architectural commissions, Albers published poetry, articles, and books on art. Thus, as a theoretician and teacher, he was an important influence on generations of young artists. As a colour theoretician, the principles, he sought to illustrate were reversed grounds, transparencies, space, and vibrating boundaries. Albers explained that since “color deceives continually”, he developed a unique experimental way to study and teach color through a series of practical exercises.

Josef Albers, Aquarium, 1934 Woodcut

The majority of the text in this post about Albers came from Art Icons.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s