Josef Albers: Life and Work by Charles Darwent - review by Brian Dillon

Brian Dillon

Squares in His Eyes

Josef Albers: Life and Work


Thames & Hudson 335pp £24.95 order from our bookshop

Between 1950 and his death in 1976, the German artist and designer Josef Albers painted more than 2,000 compositions in a series titled Homage to the Square. They are nearly all thinly executed on Masonite boards and most involve concentric squares of colour that frame an implied vanishing point below the middle of the painting. Or is it, rather, that they project this point towards us? The illusions and perplexities of these works have often been compared to those of op art, while their austerity recalls Malevich’s Black Square of 1915 and the angles and planes of 1960s minimalism. In fact, none of these comparisons apply. Albers was engaged in a rigorous but idiosyncratic study of the ways colours behave together. It was an ambitious and repetitive project that the artist (a modest sort of egoist) described in everyday, oddly culinary terms, inscribing a ‘recipe’ for each individual work on its reverse. Filmed in his studio in 1969, Albers declared: ‘It is like making sandwiches.’

The character who emerges from Charles Darwent’s elegant biography of Albers is quite of a piece with the combination in his Homage series of the lofty and the down-to-earth. An ex-student of his – Albers taught at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College and Yale – recalled a pedagogic personality

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