Josef Albers, Study for Homage to the Square, 1961
Oil on masonite, 32 x 32 inches
April 1 – May 2, 2009
Waddington Galleries presents an exhibition of paintings by Josef Albers from his Variant and Homage to the Square series, dating from 1947 to 1971.
The earliest painting in the exhibition is Variant: “White and Grey with Two Yellows and Two Greens” (1947–1955). Albers started the Variant series in 1947, a year which he spent in Mexico and the paintings resemble the simple geometric facades of adobe houses, with two mirroring windows, that Albers had seen there. Throughout the series, also known as the Adobe paintings, Albers used a similar composition with varying colour combinations, applying paint unmixed, directly from the tube onto white primed hardboard. He divided each work into units so that every colour could be given a quantitative as well as chromatic valuation, often noting the formula on the back of the painting. It was a working practice he would use again in his Homage to the square paintings, which he began in 1950, the same year that he moved to Yale University to organise a teaching course incorporating many of his ideas from the Bauhaus.
Colour was central to Albers’ work and teaching and, partly inspired by Goethe’s 1811 Farbenlehre (Study of colour), he had developed the subject into a separate course. In his experimental exercises, using cut-out paper, Albers explored how colour behaves and perpetually changes, its spatial effects, and how the same colour placed on different colour grounds can lose its identity or how different colours can be made to look the same. For the Homage to the Square series he used a format of squares within a square (an idea developed from Johannes Itten’s Basic Course at the Bauhaus, where squares within squares were used for colour exercises). Albers formulated four different compositions based on related proportions, all of which are included in the exhibition; three containing 3 squares and one of 4. Sometimes Albers added mitred corners to the squares, as can be seen in Study for Homage to the Square: “Oracle” 1961, extended the horizontal planes by painting these a different colour, as seen in “Variation on Homage to the Square” 1961, and used descriptive, often lyrical words to describe how the colours performed together and the associations they evoked; in this exhibition, paintings are named “Whist”, “Green Dusk”, “Golden” and “Oracle”. Albers worked continuously on the Homages to the Square paintings for the next twenty-six years, until his death in 1976.