Josef Albers, (1966) White Line Square XV from White Line Squares, Series II WLS XV from White Line Squares (Series II,) [Lithograph], 52.7x 52.7cm, MoMA, New York.
Although heavily associated with painting, Josef Albers’s practice also spanned writing, sculpture, design and printmaking. As a student and later teacher at the infamous Bauhaus working alongside artists including; Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, Albers’s work both influenced and inspired a generation of artists whilst teaching the Vorkurs (Preliminary course) with students including Eva Hesse.
Albers’s; Homage to the Square series, was started in 1948, it was a series in which Albers seems to experiment and integrate his theories of colour and form within print in an almost autonomous process to generate simple yet visual ambiguity. Although working with machines (part of the Bauhaus ethic) Albers was a craftsman – for example, Albers hand painted the straight edges in the Homage to the Square series. Albers’s approach to the infamous Homage to the square series was undertaken as a methodical process to create a modest composition. The squares act almost as a structural architectural framework to generate equally empty spaces to sustain transcendental meditation.
Albers's in essence believes what you see is not what you see, instead Albers's urges viewers to abandon preconceptions to see abstraction. Albers's has contributed greatly to the language of printmaking, keeping it alive through modernism, developing print into a fresh contemporary visual language. The most intriguing of Albers’s prints are the intaglio prints printed without ink; the series seems to interrogate the process of intaglio printmaking, and instead of ink we are left with a negative space, with relief areas created from the pressure of the printing press. The result is a startling realisation of the pure essence of print, to create a sense of organic verisimilitude to stay true to the inherent nature of printmaking.
Josef Albers, (1958) Duo B, [Intaglio printed without ink]
In pieces such as Day + Night III from Day and Night (below), from the Homage to the Square series, Albers seems to be experimenting with the surface of the prints, incorporating the paper as an extra square within the composition. This incorporation of the white space of the paper acts almost as a barrier or border to control and compose thought within the boundaries and limitations of existence. It is as though as the viewer is being pulled by the force of Albers’s use of colour into a void of pigment into hollow hues and strewn through deep thought. This creates a sense of colour in space creating layers of colour which explore the relationships between light and colour, interrogating the ability of one colour to affect another to create metaphysical connotations.
Josef Albers, (1963) Day + Night III from Day and Night: Homage to the Square, [Lithograph], 47.8x 51.8cm, MoMA, New York.
It is as though the viewer is forced in a conscious effort to the connections between the colours that engage toward the centre of the composition to hold the capacity for different Ways of seeing. In Albers’s notorious book Interaction of Colour Albers comments that; “Colours present themselves in continuous flux, constantly related to changing neighbours and changing conditions” as though colour is a motif and thematic element lying at the core of Albers’s practice.