“As ‘gentlemen prefer blondes’, so everyone has a preference for certain colors and prejudices against others. This applies to colour combinations as well.”
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. After attending the Königliche Kunstschule in Berlin from 1913 to 1915, he was certified as an art teacher. In 1915, he married Anni Fleischmann, who became a noted weaver and his wife of fifty-one years. 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. These “found object” designs show his early predilection for optics.
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.
Albers became a prolific artist, known primarily for his “Homage’s to Squares.” 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.
He influenced many artists such as Neil Welliver and Robert Rauschenberg. From 1950 to 1958, Albers served as Chairman of the Department of Design at Yale University. As an art teacher in America, his methods were both innovative and shocking because he eliminated copying from nature and from other artists. His goal was to create an attunement or close investigative relationship between the artist and the work and to exclude anything that might interfere with this synchrony. To set the tone, he began his classes with kinetic exercises whereby each student was asked to foreshadow with movement the designs he or she intended to depict in their artwork.
The square was the ideal shape for Albers’ “Homage’s,” series. Squares were mathematically related to each other in size, perfect for superimposition, shapes that never occur in nature–thus assuring its man-made quality. Albers intended that the colours in his “Homage’s” series react with each other when processed by the human eye, causing optical illusions due to the eye’s ability to continually change the colors in ways that echo, support, and oppose one another. He executed these paintings with a deliberate, careful technique using a minimum of tools and paint. He hated chaos and was adamantly opposed to the freedoms of Abstract Expressionism. When working, he applied one base or primary coat to Masonite, a ground he found most durable, and then squeezed unmixed paints directly from the tubes and spread the paint evenly and as thinly as possible with a palette knife.
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. Albers, who taught at Yale and lectured widely, combined the careers of teacher and painter so that his paintings demonstrate his theories and his theories draw upon his discoveries in design and color.
Biography by Pierre
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