JOSEF ALBERS: artist, theorist, educator

Accomplished as a designer, photographer, typographer, printmaker, and poet, Albers is best remembered for his work as an abstract painter, educator and theorist.  He was born in Bottrop, Westphalia, Germany on March 25, 1888.

Albers earliest employment was that of a schoolteacher in his hometown.  Further studies trained him in Art Education and Painting.  At age 32, in 1920, Josef enrolled as a preliminary student at the Weimar Bauhaus and in two years he joined the faculty of there as a stained-glass maker.  As the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925, he was promoted to the position of Professor, adding furniture-making to his stained-glass curriculum, alongside artist-teacher peers Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee.

As the Bauhaus closed under pressure from the Nazi regime in 1933, Albers emigrated to the United States.  Architect and MOMA Curator Philip Johnson arranged for him to be offered a job at a new art school, Black Mountain College in North Carolina.  Josef took the position and taught at Black Mountain from 1933-1949, when he left to head the design department at Yale University.In 1963, he published Interaction of Color which presented his theory that colors were governed by an internal and deceptive logic.

“Albers’s most profound impact on the history and practice of modern art was his transformation of art education and pedagogy, which he believed was the key to developing a future audience for art. Central to this pedagogy was a non-dogmatic, un-hierarchical, “scientific” approach based on observation and experimentation. As a teacher his stated goal was to “open the eyes,” of students by disrupting ingrained habits of perception and considering forms apart from their conventional associations, reduced to their basic characteristics (line, shape, material, color). His strategies of “defamiliarization,” such as drawing with the non-dominant hand, mirror writing, exploring optical illusions, and representing “negative” spaces, sharpened visual observation, precision, and awareness and are now an accepted part of the academic training of visual artists.” -Josef Albers, American Painter, Poet, Sculptor, Teacher and Theoretician, The Art Story, http://www.theartstory.org/artist-albers-josef.htm

In his paintings, Albers combined geometric shapes with highly calculated color combinations, sometimes creating heightened optical effects.

‘His work represents a transition between traditional European art and the new American art.  It incorporated European influences from the Constructivists and the Bauhaus movement, and its intensity and smallness of scale were typically European, but his influence fell heavily on American artists of the late 1950s and the 1960s. “Hard-edge” abstract painters drew on his use of patterns and intense colors,while Op artists and conceptual artists further explored his interest in perception.’ -Piper, David. The Illustrated History of Art, ISBN 0-7537-0179-0, p469.

A famous and important series of work for Albers was his Homage To The Square, consisting of over 1000 related works.  Begun in 1949, he continued work on the series until his death in 1976.

‘Homage to the Square is the signature series of over 1000 related works, which Albers began in 1949 and continued to develop until his death in 1976. Such sustained attention to a single aspect of painting reflects his conviction that insight is only attained through “continued trying and critical repetition.” This early work exemplifies his basic approach to exploring the mutability of human perception and the range of optical and psychological effects that colors alone can produce depending on their position and proximity. Albers chose a single, repeated geometric shape, which he insisted was devoid of symbolism, to systematically experiment with the “relativity” of color, how it changes through juxtaposition, placement, and interaction with other colors, generating the illusion of attraction, resistance, weight, and movement. As in his earlier monochromatic and linear studies, this series explores the potential of static two-dimensional media to invoke dynamic three-dimensional space.’  -Josef Albers, American Painter, Poet, Sculptor, Teacher and Theoretician, The Art Story, http://www.theartstory.org/artist-albers-josef.htm

Artists who studied with Albers include: Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Donald Judd, Ray Johnson, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Eva Hesse, and John Chamberlain.

Sources:

  • -Piper, David. The Illustrated History of ArtISBN 0-7537-0179-0, p469.
  • -Sebastian Smee, The Secrets of Color, The Atlantic, December 2014  http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/12/the-secrets-of-color/382229/
  •  -Josef Albers, American Painter, Poet, Sculptor, Teacher and Theoretician, The Art Story, http://www.theartstory.org/artist-albers-josef.htm
  • -Josef Albers, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_Albers
  • Josef Albers, Art DIrectory, http://www.albers-josef.com/
  • Josef Albers, WikiArt, https://www.wikiart.org/en/josef-albers

 

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