German-born American artist, educator and post painterly abstractist, Josef Albers was hugely influential as innovator of styles as Colour Field painting and Op art. He is also the creator of the Interaction of Color theory.
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Josef Albers was born in 1888, in Bottrop, Germany. After attending the Konigliche Kunstschule in Berlin from 1913 to 1915, he became a certified art professor. Albers studied lithography in Essen and attended the Academy in Munich. In 1920 at the age of 32, Albers entered the Bauhaus as a teacher in the Design department. With the definitive affirmation of the Nazi dictatorship, he escaped to the US and succeeded in obtaining the chair of painting at Black Mountain College. In 1949, Albers left Black Mountain College to serve as the chairman of the Design Department at Yale University from 1950 to 1958 where he taught Richard Anuszkiewicz and Eva Hesse. While lecturing at Yale, Albers began his most famous body of work, the series Homage to the Square, an exercise on the optical effects of color within the confines of a uniform square shape. At the age of 70 he left from Yale and in 1971, he was the first living artist to be honored with a solo retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
What were his major works?
During hi life, Albers focused on several series of paintings, made from similar geometric designs that give ambiguity effects, whose purpose is to systematically explore the effects of perception.
His best-known series, “Homage to the Square” (series started in 1949), is made up of simple repeating and overlapping squares, colored with different shades that create an optical effect of depth. The arrangement of these squares is carefully calculated so that the color of each square optically alters the sizes and spatial relationships of the others. These works formed the basis of the first solo exhibition given to a living artist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, in 1971
Besides painting and architectural commissions, Albers published poetry, articles, and books on art. Therefore, he was an important influence on generations of young artists. His main concern was the interaction of color; that is, seeing what happens between colors. Albers approach to colors is democratic and accessible. He preferred colored paper to paint, because paper allowed for the repeated use of a single color.
How can we identify Albers’ style?
Albers was not interested in the science of color mixing or of optics and refraction. He was interested in art at a personal level — how human beings perceive color. He said: “In an age in which increased human sensibility has become such an obvious need in all areas of human involvement, color sensitivity and awareness can constitute a major weapon against forces of insensitivity and brutalization.”
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The artist’s goal is to “reveal and evoke a vision“, a theme very dear to the generation to which he belonged: with other words but wishing to convey the same message, Klee had stated that: “Art does not reproduce what is visible but makes visible what is not always “. In the work of Albers, the determination to “open the eyes” of those who look comes from the belief that they can see the miraculous in the physical world. And his art is a manifestation of it. For a choice dictated more by the search for an internal thematic continuity than by the desire to identify a chronological evolution, the paintings are organized according to three main guidelines: the line, the shape and the color.
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