Joseph Albers AP2

Homage to the Square (1961)

Joseph Albers (Glass, Colour and Light)

A New Light: Joseph Albers’s Work in Glass

  • Windows bring light into darkness.
  • Window light overcame the darkness or blindness of all that had preceded.
  • Where previously there had been confusion, and vision had been obscured, once the sun’s rays passed through glass there was, literally enlightenment.
  • Windows not only invite brightness but also allow the old to be discarded.
  • Glass enabled Albers to realise his most cherished goals: with this relatively ordinary form of matter, he could make a piercing light shine brightly and the old and dark disappear.
  • With glass, the artist could give exultant voice to a range of resplendent, and seemingly holy, colours.
  • Art should provide something else: a life, an awakening, a removal into another, brighter sphere.
  • Glass’s translucency, its vibrant transmission of colour, its mutability, its ability to be cut, assembled and sandblasted in myriad arrangements that bear no direct evidence of personal handwriting made of all the spiritual and visual possibilities resoundingly, gloriously apparent.
  • Glass is sacred, the stuff of revelations. It represented thinking of another sphere, an acceptance of the inexplicable.
  • As with any mediums in which Albers worked, the artist noticed what others were ding, but still found in it a unique and unprecedented opportunity.
  • Glass permits the process of transformation so pivotal to Albers’s notion of the value of art.
  • For his early assemblages, he picked up disregarded fragments, the garbage became jewels.
  • In later works, glassmaker’s samples acquire a celestial radiance; an orderly grid becomes a source of euphoria; stencils and the machinery of sandblasting help make objects that dance with rhythmic leaps. (12)
  • In the opaque works, the artist achieved an illusion of translucency, so that light that is actually reflected appears to be emanating from a direct source.
  • Homage to a Square:
    • His ‘platters to serve colour’: application of six to ten coats of white Liquitex gesso on top of a hard, unyielding surface creates a luminous and neutral setting where colour can have its fullest voice.
  • Glass as a material was too fragile, the loss too painful. The possibilities for spiritual purity had been truly shattered by human brutality.
Homage to the Square (1962)
Homage to the Square (1964)
Homage to the Square (1962)
Homage to the Square (1962)
Park (1924)

Albers: Glass, Colour and Light

  • Before artists knew how to render light illusionistically- when light could only be represented emblematically (e.g. halo)- it was universally understood as the manifestation of a divine presence.
  • It represented illumination, enlightenment and the grace through which man could orient himself among the dangers and pitfalls of the world.
  • This tradition in the arts began to undergo radical changes around 1800, as first evident in the work of Francisco de Goya.
    • I his prints, Goya used light and dark in terms of their metaphysical meanings but simply as black, white and intermediate values of gray.
    • The struggle for new meanings and aesthetic functions for light and dark is one of the most fascinating phenomena of Modern Art.
    • In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the need to explore light was a paramount concern of artists raging from the Impressionists, who insisted on a morally neutral basis for all visual experience.
  • By containing a luminous inner image within the darker outer frame, and using discrepant scales, he translated the purpose and meaning of medieval stained-glass windows into a modern mode.
  • As in stained glass, the central “light image” can be perceived only by opposition to the darkness that surrounds it.
  • Albers’s played with similar relationships of image to ground, of transparent to opaque, of light as pulsating life against a passive expanse of a single hue.
  • Park (1924)
    • Albers’s imparted to Park a far soberer, intensely disciplined style that would make his later work., leaving behind those impulses rooted in the spontaneity of Germany and French expressionist tendencies.
    • Park sacrifices the exuberant profusion of shapes of the earlier works but retains the lyrical freedom of their wide chromatic range.
    • Yellows, purples, oranges, whites and green give a staccato, syncopated quality to the composition, which the wire-mesh covering adds irregular ornamentation.
    • Albers’s finally did away with diversely shaped elements and substituted them for logical tectonic organization, which orders distinct groups of green, blue and white rectangles into a modular system.
    • The slightly wider strips of leading divide the areas of colours into distinct colours or into checkerboard arrangements.
    • In the vertical configuration of olive-green squares on the left, the thicker strips not only outline the particular chromatic group but also accentuate the shift from left to right of the lower block of squares.
    • Although far from uniform, the arrangement of the individual squares and the linear structure retain an architectural rather than expressive effect.
    • Albers renounced the lavish bouquet of rubies ultramarines, yellows and greens of the earlier panels, reducing his palate in Park to a narrow range of green and blue hues, highlighted by sparse, small areas of white.
    • Instead of arranging distinct colours for variety and contrapuntal complexity, Albers now concentrated on constantly shifting subtle modulations in colour groups, creating what can be called a climate of colour.
    • One small area of Park stands out in serene but insistent contradiction to the work’s severe economy in colour range and the basic form of the square: the two rectangles and squares of a mildly glowing pink to the right of the center.
    • Within the context of the repetitive web of squares surrounding it, the black lines within the pink area declare themselves very eloquently to be a cross, which we can perceive as a purely formal device or as a mystic symbol.
    • Isolated and diminutive, the area asserts itself as the heart of the entire composition and sets the tones to which all others are attuned.
J Scherben im Gitterbild (1921)
Josef Albers in the Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2017.

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