First initiated in 1950, Albers’ consummate Homage to the Square were the product of a meticulous painterly and geometric process, and the colour choices a representation of his personal surroundings. Many of the colour, such as the yellow and tan hues in the present works, are rooted in the artist’s Latin American trips. The artist first travelled to Mexico in 1935, and the encounter with Latin American indigenous art would have a decisive influence on the artist’s understanding of colour and form. As masterfully exemplified in the present works, the light of the South powerfully emanates through the juxtaposition of luminous emerald green nested in a sea of vibrant terracotta and muted mahogany. As much as the painting is an homage to the square, it equally becomes an homage to the colour and light that Albers discovered in the landscape of the South.
Indeed, Albers’ deep-rooted interest in Latin America and his interest for the region’s indigenous art forged a crucial understanding for the subtle relationship between colour and form that led to his Homage to the Square paintings. Between 1935 and 1967, Albers and his wife Anni journeyed to Mexico some fourteen times, travelling in a Ford Model A across the border. It was in the South that Albers encountered the magnificent architecture of ancient Mesoamerica and the abundance of pre-Columbian artefacts. Over the years, the couple amassed a collection of around 1,400 objects; antiquities that were to profoundly influence their creative output in the years to come. Albers’ experiences in Latin America therefore offer an essential context for understanding his unprecedented opus. His arrangements of squares and rectangles share the same aesthetic DNA to the abstract forms of Latin American pottery and textiles, and even extend to the history of architecture. This becomes the more apparent when looking at the artist’s fascinating collection of black-and-white photographs that document the pyramids, shrines and sanctuaries he discovered at various archaeological sites during his travels, especially in Mexico and Peru, which became subject to the 2017 exhibition Josef Albers in Mexico, opening in November 2017 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
In the present works layers of nuanced yellow, orange and tan envelop Albers’ archetypal Masonite surface to create mesmerizingly simple yet theoretically complex visual experience of both light and depth. Confirming Albers’ status as one of the most influential artists of the post-war era, they provide and autonomous polyphony in which rational thought is abandoned in favour of a truly sensuous experience of pure colour.
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