San Francisco

Joseph Albers

San Francisco Mu­seum of Art

Early in his career as an artist, Joseph Albers worked with glass and plastics in line with the Bauhaus enthusiasm for new materials and meth­ods. With the advent of Naziism in his native Germany, he moved to the United States, teaching his first classes in America with the aid of a translator. During his first decade in America he took to oil painting, but used a palette knife, primarily, and painted a rigorously architectural delineation of space, with persistent examination of the possibili­ties within the limitations of black, white and grey.

This is an ironic beginning for an ar­tist whose reputation today is as one of our leading color theorists. This sum­mer’s exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art, “Interaction of Color: A presentation of paintings and the color theory of Joseph Albers,” announces the publication by Princeton University of his new book by the same name. This exhibition demonstrates the use of vio­lently vibrating colors to perform much the same pictorial gymnastics as the black and white paintings of the thirties: A succession of right angles leads the eye back into an illusion of space, only to have the eye suddenly reverse the illusion and find the right angles pyra­miding outward. The right angle grid has been simplified into mere squares with­in squares in these recent color etudes. (With a more complicated architecture, and these same colors, the results might have been too riotous.)

When Albers finally concerned him­self with colors, it was with much the same Gestalt emphasis on total rela­tionships that Paul Klee had concerned himself with in the “Pedagogical Sketch­books,” (though Klee used these ideas, his paintings were never simply “demon­strations” of the theories).

In the mid forties, Albers worked and studied in Mexico where a Pre-Colum­bian influence in color is still in evi­dence, particularly in the crafts. It is surely no accident that these recent vi­brating squares exhibit a close resem­blance to the “Ojos de Dios” (eye of God) configurations of the Huicholes of Nayarit.

This vibrant relationship between colors is achieved by using the comple­mentary color mixed with an element of the color complemented. The neutral transparency between the two hues acts as a sounding board for the after images that the eyes of the viewer see jump­ing across the painting.

The mystical implications which re­viewers of more nearly expressionist in­clinations find in these paintings, prob­ably refer to the hypnotic suggestion of such symmetrical and singular imagery, but certainly they do not inspire a medi­tative frame of mind such as the equally symmetrical painting of, say, Ad Rein­hardt or Mark Rothko.

Knute Stiles