Josef Albers (1888-1976)

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Josef Albers was an influential, German-born American painter. Albers was born in Bottrop, Germany to a family of artisans. From an early age, Albers had an understanding of art and craftsmanship. Albers studied for several years in Germany, transferring to various schools from Berlin to Munich. By 1920, Albers was accepted into the esteemed Weimar Bauhaus School. Within the next five years, Albers became a professor at the Bauhaus’ new location in Dessau. Albers taught a variety of courses, including drawing, calligraphy and furniture design. Albers turned the Bauhaus away from expressionism and towards constructivism, aiding architecture and industrial design.

In 1933, the Bauhaus was forced to close its doors, due to tension with the Nazis. Albers fled to the United States with his wife Anni, a textiles artist. They settled in North Carolina, where Albers became a professor at the Black Mountain College. For several years, Albers headed the Painting DSepartment, instructing Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Ray Johnson and Susan Weil. Under Albers influence many of his students also became important figures in the art world. In 1950 Albers left Black Mountain College to head the Department of Design at Yale University. Albers remained at Yale until retiring in his early sixties.

Albers was one of the first artists to explore the psychology of color and space, influencing Geometric Abstraction and Minimalism. He used the square in almost all of his work, creating optical illusions through minimal changes in color and scale. Albers is possibly most known for his “Homage’s” series, utilizing carefully constructed compositions with squares. He believed in precision rather than chaos, and criticized Abstract Expressionism.

Albers’ paintings were executed on primed boards with unmixed paints. The paint would be applied to the surface in thin coats with a palette knife. It was important to Albers to utilize minimal materials in work. Albers’ methods of painting and teaching were innovative, focusing on theory and synchrony. Albers not only created traditional paintings, but also translated his ideas into prints, murals and architectural collaborations. Albers was also a writer and published several articles, books and poems, describing his color theories.


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