The Master of the Square
Josef Albers (1888-1976) was not just a critical artist for the growth of modernism in the 20th century but also an educator and conductor of colour theory.
His life began in Bottrop, Germany, where he grew up training in glass engraving, plumbing and wiring by his parents, giving Albers a diverse range of skills and handling of a rich number of materials. He began his career as a school teacher still in his hometown. From 1913 to 1915, Albers was enrolled at Königliche Kunstschule in Berlin, training to become an art teacher.
In 1916 Albers moved to Essen, Germany, where he worked as a printmaker and learnt how to design stained glass with Dutch artist Johan Thorn Prikker. In 1918 Albers received his first commission from a church in Bottrop for a stained glass window - he created Rosa mystica ora pro nobis (1918). Albers then wished to further himself in art and moved to Munich in 1919 to study at the Königliche Bayerische Akademie der Bildenden Kunst, where he was the pupil of artists and art theorists Max Doerner and Franx Stuck.
Albers then enrolled at the Weimer Bauhaus in 1920 as a student of Swiss colour theory artist Johannes Itten. Albers furthered his designing ability in stained glass, in which he would join the faculty at Bauhaus after his course. Albers taught the course ‘Werklehre’ to conduct new students in the art of handcrafts. In 1925 Albers was promoted to a professor at Bauhaus. He married a weaving student Anni Fleischmann, who studied at Bauhaus. Anni initially tried to enrol on her future husband's course but was rejected as, during the 1920s women could not apply to glass working.
The rise of the Nazi party in 1933 led to the closure of Bauhaus and other art institutions, which pressured many artists into leaving the country. Albers and his wife were among them, emigrating to the United States. Albers worked as the head of art at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he taught the painting course until 1949. During his time in North Carolina, Albers gained prominence in the teaching of art and joined Yale University to head the department of design. Whilst at Yale, Albers created some of his most iconic works. His art shifted from glass to paintings, keeping the typical blocky colours from stained glass. Albers expressed this in the series Homage to the Square, which detailed several colourful squares housed inside one another.
Albers retired in 1958 from teaching and became a fellow at Yale, continuing to share his esteemed knowledge with others. He collaborated with Enoch Light and produced abstract album covers for their record label Command records. He did this for three years between 1959-1961 and swayed from his usual style by incorporating new elements like circles or dots.
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.
- Josef Albers
In 1963 Albers published the book Interaction of Colour about colour theory. The book detailed the principles of combining colours and cemented himself as one of the most important art theorists and educators of the 20th century. Many of his students would remark that perhaps being knowledgeable wasn't Albers' greatest strength but, he had the perfect vision for art. Albers would be the teacher of several artists, notably Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Abuszkiewicz, Eva Hesse and Neil Welliver.
From his original stained-glass to his many paintings Albers was a true master of colour.
With respect to this outstanding artist, we recreated three of Josef Albers's Homage to the Square using bespoke EcoBoard boxes lined with paper from G.F Smith Colorplan.