November 18th, 2008
Jen Library’s Special Collections recently acquired one of the foremost resources in Color Theory of our day. Formulation: Articulation, by Josef Albers, in collaboration with Ives-Sillman, a team of Albers’ ex-students, and publisher Harry N. Abrams in 1972 arrived in two large gray fabric covered slipcases this month. The set of two large folios each contain 33 folders, 127 prints in all, silk screened on white wove Mohawk Superfine paper that demonstrate the tenets of Albers’ theory of color interaction. It took nearly two years to produce the new prints. Albers chose the order of the 127 prints carefully so that their visual interactions could be studied and understood. They appear alone or in groups of two or more together. Works were selected from a forty year exploration of color, form, and interaction. However, the images do not appear in chronological order. Albers wrote Statements of Content for each folder to further explain his studies and observations. The publication is considered to be the culmination of Albers work and ideas on the relationship between color and environment. But, the prints can also be appreciated as beautiful works of art.
We have a few of the scans of the prints available on our Albers exhibit page and there a few more available on the Visual Resources Database. If you want to see more of Albers’ work, Artstor, available from the library’s research databases, recently announced that they now have the collection of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in their database. According to the Artstor blog, over 2,100 images in this collection, including photographs, paintings, prints, objects, and furniture design by Albers and textiles by his wife, Anni Albers.
Josef Albers was born on March 19, 1888 in born Bottrop, Ruhr District, Germany. He trained as a teacher and began his career after completing teaching college in 1908. Around that time, he began to travel to museums in Munich and Berlin and saw the works of Cezanne, Matisse, and others. In 1915, he moved to Berlin to study to become an art teacher. He studied painting and printmaking processes and received his first commissioned work in 1918. He went on to study in Munich at the Royal Bavarian Art Academy, and in 1920, enrolled in the Bauhaus and took the Preliminary Course in materials and design. The course was taught by Johannes Itten, a Swiss Expressionist and an innovator in Color Theory. While at the Bauhaus, Itten formulated his ideas to define and identify strategies and methodologies for coordinating colors for successful color combinations. Albers completed the Preliminary Course and an independent study in stained glass. In 1922, he was appointed a “journeyman” and placed in charge of the Bauhaus glass workshop. It was around this time that he met Anneliese Fleischmann, a student in textile design. In 1925, the couple married.
Johannes Itten left the Bauhaus in 1923 and Albers, together with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, taught the Preliminary Course in material and design. He designed stained glass, furniture, household objects, and even a typeface. He also began writing articles and presenting papers. He and Anni traveled and photographed their travels. Albers published his work on his educational method and philosophy, “Werklicher Formunterricht,” in the journal Bauhaus. In 1930, when Mies van der Rohe becomes director of the Bauhaus, Albers became assistant director. His works continued in glass and furniture design and he resumed printmaking as well.
After the Bauhaus was closed by the Nazi government in 1933, Albers was invited to teach at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He was recommended by Philip Johnson, then director of the department of architecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Though Albers did not speak English and did not know where North Carolina was, he accepted. He became one of America’s most important and original teachers of art. At Black Mountain, his students included Robert Rauschenberg, Ray Johnson, Ruth Asawa, Kenneth Noland, and Susan Weil. Other faculty members included Walter Gropius, John Cage, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and Ilya Bolotowsky. It was said of Albers that as a teacher, he was “his own academy.” Albers stayed at Black Mountain until 1949, when internal problems came to a head and several faculty members resigned. He then went on to become the head of the Department of Design at Yale University School of Art, remaining in that position until 1958, when he assumed the position of Visiting Professor until 1960. In 1963, Yale University Press published Josef Albers’ Interactions of Color, the definitive work on color theory and a masterwork in twentieth-century art education. Albers conceived the book as a handbook and teaching aid for artists, instructors, and students. It presented Albers’ unique ideas of color experimentation as a limited silkscreen edition with 150 color plates.
After Albers retired from teaching, he continued to work, designing murals, building facades, and sculptures, painting, and writing. He received several honorary degrees and awards. A number of museums hosted major retrospective exhibits of his work. In 1971, he was the first living artist ever to be the subject of a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1972, he published Formulation: Articulation in collaboration with Ives-Sillman and publisher Harry N. Abrams. It consisted of two portfolios each with 33 folders of prints. It is considered not an exhibition of his art, but an embodiment of his teaching philosophy and documentation of the visual exercises accompanying his instruction.
Albers’s color studies demonstrated that color is the most relative medium in art. He based his teachings on his own experiences. Albers found it necessary to invent a new vocabulary to present his ideas and to develop experimental problems to challenge his students and to facilitate understanding of the concepts. He utilized laboratory assignments to provide students with the tools to gain an understanding of how colors work together or in opposition. He thought that people usually do not perceive what color is physically. He urged his students to question their vision and to rethink what they saw. He thought that each color had its own properties, ambiguities, and densities, offering uncertainties. Colors could be manipulated by changing their color environments and can appear to be translucent when opaque and vice versa. He referred to the mutual influencing of colors as interaction.
Such color deceptions prove that we see colors almost never unrelated to each other and therefore unchanged; that color is changing continually: with changing light, with changing shape and placement, and with quantity which denotes either amount (a real extension) or number (recurrence). And just as influential are changes in perception depending on changes of mood, and consequently of receptiveness. “Words of a Painter”, 1970.
Albers died in Connecticut at the age of 88 in 1976.
While at the Black Mountain College Summer Institute in 1945, student Margaret Williams Peterson took careful notes and preserved her assignments from her class with Albers. Her notes and assignments can be found at the Black Mountain College Project’s website: Joseph Albers Color and Joseph Albers Design.
Albers, Josef. “Words of a Painter.”Art Education, Vol. 23, No. 9 (Dec., 1970), pp. 34-35
Black Mountain Project: http://www.bmcproject.org/BMC%20PROJECT/mission.htm
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
Josef Albers Biography
Josef Albers, photograph by Arnold Newman, 1948. Retrieved document.write(mm[new Date().getMonth()]); November document.write(new Date().getDate()); 17, document.write(new Date().getFullYear()); 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://0-www.search.eb.com.library.scad.edu:80/eb/art-8245
Yale University Press