- Josef Albers, Color Study for White Line Square,oil on blotting paper with gouache, pencil and varnish; The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation,inv. no. 1976.2.22 29.53 x 29.66 cm
Josef Albers painted over 2000 paintings in his Homage to the Square series between 1950 and 1976, the year he died. What is less known is that the paintings--which took only a few hours each to execute--were preceded by intense color studies in oil, or sometimes gouache, on blotting paper.
Unlike the pristine paintings on masonite or board, the sketches are loosely painted. Most are notated in the margins, sometimes even on the paint itself, with the information of their making: the names of paint brands and colors Albers used, and daubs of related hues. Sometimes the sketches are divided, and we see how one set of hues worked in relation to another, or they reveal his attempts to find the perfect gray foil to the hues already selected. Albers chose blotting paper for his sketches so that it would absorb much of the oil, leaving intensely pigmented color on the surface.
Fifty of these sketches are the subject of a splendid exhibition at the Morgan Library, Josef Albers in America: Painting on Paper, through October 14. It's the only American venue for the show, so if you're an Albers devotee (and who isn't?) get over while the show is up.
A catalog is available if you can't get there, but it doesn't begin to convey the intimacy of the small gallery and the color radiating from its walls. I wasn't allowed to photograph, so I can't convey it here either, but these images will give you a little taste of what's in the exhibition.
- Josef Albers, Color Study for Homage to the Square, oil and graphite on blotting paper with varnish; The Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop, inv. no. 9/433 30.5 x 30.5 cm
Josef Albers, Three Color Studies for Homage to the Square, oil on blotting paper; The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, inv. no. 1976.2.192
20.9 x 47.6 cm
- Josef Albers, Study for Homage to the Square with Color Study, oil on blotting paper; The Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop, inv. no. 9/434 44.3 x 30.2 cm
A little background: With his wife Anni (famed in her own right as a weaver of geometric tapestries developed during her time in the Bauhaus), Albers made numerous trips to Mexico between 1935 and 1955, taking in the light and the color and the geometry of the adobe houses, which were horizontally rectangular in shape and featured two vertical doors on either side of the central axis. He did a series of color studies using this motif, as well as individual paintings that relate to pottery and fabric patterns. “Mexico,” he wrote to Nina and Wassily Kandinsky in 1936, “is truly the promised land of abstract art.”
- Josef Albers, Study for a Variant/ Adobe (I), ca. 1947, oil on blotting paper with pencil; The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, inv. no. 1976.2.270 24.1 x 30.6 cm
All images courtesy of the Morgan Library
I recommend the entree.