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Josef Albers Photo

Josef Albers

American Painter, Poet, Sculptor, Teacher, and Theoretician

Born: March 19 1888 - Bottrop, Germany
Died: March 25 1976 - New Haven, CT, USA
Movements and Styles:
Bauhaus
,
Geometric Abstraction
,
Op Art
"“When you really understand that each color is changed by a changed environment, you eventually find that you have learned about life as well as about color."
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Josef Albers Signature
"Instead of art I have taught philosophy. Though technique for me is a big word, I never have taught how to paint. All my doing was to make people to see."
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Josef Albers Signature
"Art is revelation instead of information, expression instead of description, creation instead of imitation or repetition. Art is concerned with the HOW, not the WHAT; not with literal content, but with the performance of the factual content. The performance - how it is done - that is the content of art."
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Josef Albers Signature
"Any ground subtracts its own hue from the colors which it carries and therefore influences."
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Josef Albers Signature
"In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is - as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art."
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Josef Albers Signature
"Simultaneous contrast is not just a curious optical phenomenon - it is the very heart of painting."
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Josef Albers Signature
"Albers was a beautiful teacher and an impossible person ... what he taught had to do with the entire visual world ... I consider Albers the most important teacher I've ever had, and I'm sure he considered me one of his poorest students."
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Robert Rauschenberg Signature

Summary of Josef Albers

Josef Albers was instrumental in bringing the tenets of European modernism, particularly those associated with the Bauhaus, to America. His legacy as a teacher of artists, as well as his extensive theoretical work proposing that color, rather than form, is the primary medium of pictorial language, profoundly influenced the development of modern art in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s.

Accomplishments

  • Albers's 1963 book Interaction of Color provided the most comprehensive analysis of the function and perception of color to date and profoundly influenced art education and artistic practice, especially Color Field Painting and Minimalism, in the 20th century.
  • His series Homage to the Square, produced from 1949 until his death, used a single geometric shape to systematically explore the vast range of visual effects that could be achieved through color and spatial relationships alone.
  • Albers's art and theories were widely disseminated to generations of artists and art-school faculty through his teachings at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and Yale University, and they provided the theoretical basis for the development of non-objective art during and after the age of Abstract Expressionism.

Biography of Josef Albers

Josef Albers Photo

Josef Albers was born March 19, 1888, in Bottrop, Germany. From 1905 to 1908 he studied to become a teacher in Buren, teaching in Westphalian primary schools from 1908 to 1913. After attending the Konigliche Kunstschule in Berlin from 1913 to 1915, he was certified to teach art. Albers studied lithography in Essen and attended the Academy in Munich. In 1920 at the age of 32, Albers entered the Bauhaus, a school in Weimar that was committed to exploring the relationship between the arts and technological society and emphasized the integration of architecture, fine art, and craft.



Progression of Art

1942

Shrine

In 1942 Josef Albers embarked on a series of zinc plate lithographs entitled Graphic Tectonics, a title that references both the solidity of geological matter and movement. While he is best known for his color studies, much of Albers non-sculptural work prior to the 1950s was monochromatic and focused on unmodulated linear and geometric relations, spatial ambiguity, and the perception of dimension, creating "maximum effect from minimum means." This series of works was completed while he taught at Black Mountain College as part of his continued exploration of optical illusions and arrangements of lines that generated conflict between perception (what one sees) and cognition (what one knows).

Zinc Lithograph - Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York

1951

Dissolving/Vanishing

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.

Oil on Masonite - Los Angeles County Museum of Art

1961

Two Portals

After retiring from Yale in 1958 at the age of 70, Albers's former teacher and colleague, Walter Gropius, invited Albers to design a mural for the interior of the new Graduate Center at Harvard University, leading to other important mural commissions. Two Portals at the Time and Life Building, pictured here, features alternating polished nickel and bronze squares, surrounded by alternating bands of tan and white glass, to suggest receding planes, providing the illusion of depth on a flat surface.

Bronze and glass - Time-Life Building, New York City

1963

Manhattan

Albers created this mural for the lobby of the Pan Am (now MetLife) Building in 1963, again at the request of the building's architect, his friend and mentor, Walter Gropius. Tens of thousands of people passed by this mural during their daily commute to Grand Central Station until it was removed when the lobby was renovated in 2000. Albers created the mural as a tribute to New York City, based on an early work City, a 1928 Bauhaus glass "wall painting" of interlocking rectangles that use color and placement to suggest both three-dimensionality and movement. At the current time, this mural is in storage and cannot be seen by the public.

Formica - Lobby of the Pan Am Building (now called the MetLife Building), New York City (Removed 2000)

1963

Repeat and Reverse

Albers executed this exterior sculpture at the request of his colleague Paul Rudolph, the architect of the then-new Art and Architecture Building at Yale University. Like Albers's Homage to the Square series, which deal with the optical effects produced by color and line, Repeat and Reverse uses a simple arrangement of steel bars to reproduce a three-dimensional illusion of planes that appear to project and recede from the wall.

Stainless steel on concrete - Art and Architecture Building, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

1969

Soft Spoken

This work in the Homage to the Square series was executed almost 20 years into what may be the most sustained exploration of the relational character of color in 20th-century art. An application of a quasi-scientific method to art-making, the Homage works demonstrate the capacity of a strictly limited formal strategy to produce inexhaustible permutations and continually generate new visual and aesthetic experiences. In Soft Spoken, Albers has added a fourth square, and narrowed the range of color, while retaining the calculated asymmetry of the other works in the series. This late work continues and extends Albers's lifelong, and remarkably consistent, pedagogical focus on "opening eyes" through the repetition of forms and subtle color juxtapositions that generate internal friction, movement, and instability. Regarding them more as experiments than expressive statements, Albers continued adding to the series until the end of his life, "not because of the squares, but because there is no end with color." He donated this painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1972, a year after they honored Albers with the museum's first ever solo exhibition of a living artist.

Oil on masonite - Metropolitan Museum of Art


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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Josef Albers Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 22 Apr 2015. Updated and modified regularly
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