Josef Albers - Formulation: Articulation


Josef Albers (1888-1976) was born in Bottrop, Westphalia, Germany. Albers enrolled as a student in the preliminary course (Vorkurs) of Johannes Itten at the Weimar Bauhaus in 1920. Although, Albers had studied painting, it was a maker of stained glass that he joined the faculty of the Bauhaus in 1922, approaching his chosen medium as a component of architecture and as a stand-alone art form.  The director and founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, asked him in 1923 to teach in the preliminary course ‘Werklehre’ of the department of design to introduce newcomers to the principles of handicrafts, because Albers came from that background and had appropriate practice and acknowledgement.

In 1925, Albers was promoted to professor, the year the Bauhaus moved to Dessau.  At this time, he married Anni Albers (née Fleischmann) who was a student there.  His work in Dessau included designing furniture and working with glass.  As a younger art teacher, he was teaching at the Bauhaus among artists who included Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee.  The so-called form master, Klee taught the formal aspects in the glass workshops where Albers was the crafts master; they cooperated for several years. 

With the closure of the Bauhaus under Nazi pressure in 1933 the artists dispersed, most leaving country.  Albers emigrated to the United States.  The architect Philip Johnson, then a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, arranged for Albers to be offered a job as head of a new art school, Black Mountain College, in North Carolina.  In November 1933, he joined the faculty of the college where he was the head of the painting program until 1949. 

At Black Mountain, his students included Ray Johnson, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, and Susan Weil.  He also invited important American artists such as Willem de Kooning, Alvin Lustig and Buckminister Fuller to teach in the summer seminar.  Weil remarked that, as a teacher, Albers was “his own academy” and she said that Albers claimed that “when you’re in school, you’re not an artist, you’re a student”, although he was very supportive of self-expression when one became an artist and began her or his journey.  Albers produced many woodcuts and leaf studies at this time.

In 1950, Albers left Black Mountain to head the department of design at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.  While at Yale, Albers worked to expand the nascent graphic design program (then called “graphic arts”), hiring designers Alvin Eisenman, Herbert Matter, and Alvin Lustig.  Albers worked at Yale until he retired from teaching in 1958.

In 1963, he published Interaction of Color which presented his theory that colors were governed by an internal and deceptive logic.  In 1967, his painted mural Growth (1965) as well as Loggia Wall (1965), a brick relief, were installed on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology. 

In 1972 Albers, in collaboration with colleagues Norman Ives and Cy Stillman produced Formulation:  Articulation, a two volume portfolio comprising 127 screen prints in color with title page, text, loose and folded on Mohawk Superfine Bristol paper.  Each portfolio is signed with ink on the title page.  The two portfolios were produced in original linen-covered slipcases.

He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1973.  Albers continued to paint and write, staying in New Haven with his wife, textile artist, Anni Albers, until his death in 1976.


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