Josef Albers (1888 - 1976)


Construction (On Yellow), 1938

oil on Masonite
Josef Albers grew up in Germany’s heavily industrialized Ruhr district. He was educated as a teacher and taught public school for a number of years. In 1920 he attended the newly founded Bauhaus at Weimar, where he worked in glass. He went on to design furniture and typography and other functional objects in metal, glass, and wood. With the rise of Nazism, the Bauhaus closed, and faculty and students dispersed. Albers and his wife, Anni, a Bauhaus trained textile artist, were invited to Black Mountain College, an experimental institution outside Asheville, North Carolina. Although he spoke no English, Albers remained at Black Mountain College, where his philosophy and teaching style dominated the program for 15 years.
Albers’s primary teaching tools were paper and pencil. With little faith in the traditional, academic study of drawing, he insisted that his students fold and manipulate paper to enhance their imagination and manual skills. This process is directly mirrored in his work, including the GCMA’s painting Construction (On Yellow) and in his landmark series Homage to the Square. Recognized as a “master of optical illusion” by artist Elaine de Kooning, Albers manipulated transparent and opaque colors, creating the effects of overlapping shapes. Construction is typical of Albers’s work; it was painted on Masonite and is presented in a wood-and-metal frame designed by the artist. In 1949 Albers left Black Mountain to become the chairman of the design department at Yale University. It was there that he began his square series in earnest.