“Color is fooling us all the time”, so said color theorist and painter extraordinaire Josef Albers.  Josef Albers (1888-1976) a German painter, who taught at the Bauhaus, is best known for this minimalist paintings, advances in art education and influence in the study of color theory.
      Color study for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers , oil on paper, date unknown.
In September I had the pleasure of attending an exhibition of Albers’ works on paper at the Morgan Library in New York.  The show was  intriguing in that it featured eighty of Albers’ works on paper.  His working sketches if you will.  They offered insight into his process of his signature style geometric painting.
Painting on Paper, Josef Albers in America
  Color study for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers , oil on paper, date unknown.
Josef Albers had a stellar career in art education transforming ideas on color theory. He taught at the Bauhaus, from 1923-1933, with such luminaries as Wassily Kandinsky, Oskar Schlemmer and Paul Klee, under the direction of Walter Gropius. In 1933 he emigrated to the United States and became director at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where his students included Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly.  Finally in 1950 he landed at Yale Universityfor the duration of his career. This is where he would spend the next 25 years experimenting with color and his geometric paintings.
Painting on Paper, Josef Albers in America
 Color study for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers , oil on paper, date unknown.
Albers is best known for his abstract painting of overlapping squares featuring color harmonies.  He never mixed his colors, but rather used color directly from the tube applied carefully with a palette knife.  His small scale, hard edge, symmetrical compositions were a response to the large and gestural works of the abstract expressionists and he would go on to influence movements such as minimalism and op art.
Painting on Paper, Josef Albers in America
Color study for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers , oil on paper, date unknown.
From 1950 until 1976 Albers focused on his homage to the square or as he said “I am not paying “homage to the square”.   It’s only the dish I serve my craziness about color in”.
Painting on Paper, Josef Albers in America
 Color study for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers , oil on paper, date unknown.
Indeed Albers was not crazy, but methodical in his observations on color harmonies.  He noted on each piece what colors he used and what manufacturer made the paint, he annotated his use of varnish and other medium  “I am not an acrobat in my painting.  I am a cook”.
Painting on Paper, Josef Albers in America
                  Josef Albers, oil on canvas, Hirschhorn Museum, date unknown.
The catalog for this exhibition “Painting on Paper, JosefAlbers in America” includes a few fascinating essays by Heinz Liesbroc, Michael Semff and Isabelle Dervaux.