Art is Seeing,' So Josef Albers Develops Visual Articulation
Star Tribune (Minneapolis Minnesota) 03 July 1966 (edited)
"When I paint, I try to develop visual articulation," said Josef Albers. "I do not think, then, about abstraction and just as little about expression."
Josef Albers aim has been to change ideas and viewpoints, even the way we look at things.
Art, he feels, is seeing, and modern artists haven't done a very good job. The reasons are because they have been so individualistic. They've stuck themselves with dominant style.
Instead, says Albers, seeing demands many presentations of the same forms to test the possibilities of each and the reaction on each of different colours.
To prove his point, Albers chose the square. He began his homage to the square series in 1949. He aimed to show that the endless relationship of colour and light have unlimited possibilities in changing the form and meaning of art.
All the paintings representative of his 'Homage to the Square' period use the same simple format; a series of three or four superimposed squares. By using resonant, flatly applied colours, Albers changes the squares to fit a wide variety of emotions.
He does this by emphasizing the characteristics of colour, how it changes in different lights, how two colours may seem to be three and three colours two. He shows by the juxtaposition of colours he can make the central square leap out or drawback.
"They are juxtaposed for various and changing visual effects," Albers said. "They are to challenge and echo each other. Such colour deceptions prove that colour is changing continually, with changing light, shape and placement.
Born in 1888 in Bottrop, German Westphalia, he received his early education in Berlin, Essen and Munich.
When he was only 20, he first came under the influence of the paintings of Cezanne and Matisse.
At the age of 32, he went to Weimar to enrol in the famed Bauhaus. He went to Weimar to join in the famed Bauhaus. He became a teacher and worked with such creative genius as Kandinsky, Klee, Gropius and Feininger.
The underlying principle of the Bauhaus was to create a synthesis of the plastic arts. They felt there was no essential difference between the artist and the craftsmen.
The idea that technical skill is necessary appealed to Albers and he, for the first time, created a course in basic design which would train artist-craftsmen for the machine-art of the new industrial society.
When the Bauhaus was closed through the actions of reactionary politicians, Albers and his wife, Anni, herself a textile and fabric designer, came to the United States and accepted teaching positions at the progressive Black Mountain College in North Carolina.
It was in his last year there he began his homage to the square. He then went to Yale University to become chairman of the Department of Art. He retired from Yale in 1958.
Albers took exception to a highly influential artist at the time, Piet Mondrian. Mondrian had carried non-objective expressionism to its logical extremes with his geometric use of squares, rectangles and primary colours, using these forms as ends in themselves.
Albers reacted. To him, these forms were dependent upon the constant influence of colour and light.
At the same time, Albers reacted against the individualistic, highly emotional work of the abstract impressionists. This subjective approach clashed with his view of art seen with scientific objectivity.
He said, "I do not see that forced individualism or forced exaltation are the sources of convincing formulation of lasting meaning. I am content to compete with myself to search with a simple palette and colour for manifold instrumentation."
Albers sought a machine aesthetic, nonsubjective, nonemotional, celebrating man-made forces - but not man. The logical extension of his thinking has been optical abstraction of art.