“For me colour is my idiom. It’s automatic. I’m not paying “homage to the square.” It’s only the dish I serve my craziness about colour in ... All rendering of form, in fact all creative work moves between polarities: intuition and intellect, or possibly between subjectivity and objectivity. Colour, in my opinion, behaves like man - in two distinct ways: first in self-realization and then in the realization of relationships with others ... In other words, one must combine both being an individual and being a member of society.”
—J. ALBERS, quoted in G. Alviani (ed.), Josef Albers, Milan 1988, pp. 235-236
With its palette of shifting blue tones ruptured by a fiery red plane, Josef Albers’ Homage to a Square: Between two Skies (1954) is an early example of the artist’s seminal dissection of the chromatic spectrum. Within a stringent geometry of nestled squares, flat planes of colour are animated by the fluctuating push and pull of divergent chromatic conditions. Three blue squares are contrasted, magnifying their tonal range – a cobalt blue frames the composition, circumscribing a swathe of midnight navy that recesses into the background. The remaining blue square, with its iridescent brightness, forms the core of the composition, while a rogue red form provides an interruption of tonal warmth. The colours, applied directly from the paint tube, are playful and elusive in their interaction, relinquishing their objective tonal values as they oscillate in shifting chromatic dialogue.
Begun in 1950, and pursued until his death in 1976, Albers’ Homages to the Square culminated in one of the foremost colour theories of the twentieth century. His illustrious teaching career saw professorships at Bauhaus, Black Mountain College and Yale University, influencing artists such as Cy Twombly, John Chamberlain and Robert Rauschenberg. For Albers, the structured juxtaposition of different colours revealed new truths about their intrinsic properties. As the artist explained, ‘[t]hey are all of different palettes, and therefore, so to speak, of different climates. Choice of the colours used, as well as their order, is aimed at an interaction – influencing and changing each other forth and back’ (J. Albers, ‘On My Homage to the Square,’ in Josef Albers, exh. cat., The Mayor Gallery, London, 1989, p. 31). Despite the resolutely non-referential nature of Albers’ works, determined by empiricism and rationality, the Homages to the Square have nonetheless been interpreted in deeply emotive terms. Hans Arp explains that ‘while Mark Rothko sought transcendence, Albers looked for fulfilment here on earth. Mark Rothko approached the ethereal through art. Josef Albers realized the “spiritual in art”’ (H. Arp, quoted in W. Schmied, ‘Fifteen Notes on Josef Albers’, in Joseph Albers, exh. cat., Mayor Gallery, London, 1989, pp. 9-10). In the present work, the subtle conversations of blue and crimson invite us to contemplate two different realms of being: ‘two skies’, as the work’s title suggests, that offer windows onto uncharted perceptual realities.