To design is
to plan and organize,
to order, to relate
and to control
In short it embraces
all means opposing
disorder and accident
Therefore it signifies
a human need
and qualifies man's
thinking and doing
-Josef Albers, 1961
For me color is my idiom. Its automatic. I'm not paying 'homage to the square'. It's only the dish I serve my craziness about color in...All rendering of form, in fact all creative work moves between polarities: intuition and intellect, or possibly between subjectivity and objectivity. - Josef Albers
Josef Albers' Homage to the Square: Orange Tone displays a mastery of color and form. This particularly exuberant and crisp composition dates from the artist’s most celebrated Homage to the Square series in which he methodically examined the process of perceiving and experiencing color. This exploration of color theory, planar manipulation and pure beauty solidified Albers’ prominent place within the art historical canon and his lasting impact on generations of artists to come.
The present Homage to the Square: Orange Tone boasts rich golden hues, undulating over the surface of the painting. Such applications of color call into question the mechanics of our own optics. The brilliant mid-layer geometry seems to jump from the planar compositional field. Its vibrancy suggests a dynamic lunge toward the viewer. This type of movement in Albers’ paintings, created by the contrasting elements of the palette, elegantly undermines the obdurate form of the square.
For each of the Homage to the Square works within his series, Albers showcased precisely composed squares of color, balanced one inside the other, on square masonite panels. This type of composition and format allowed the artist to examine color relationships, and their emotive and psychological impact, in a structured and stable capacity. He applied color directly from the tube with a palette knife in a restrained and even manner to minimize any surface effect. The surfaces are pristine and otherworldly in their refinement. Albers' paintings are extremely rational constructs, pure statements of visual logic that connote the classic, the absolute and the timeless, like the work of Mondrian, Reinhardt and Newman. Albers' rational approach greatly influenced artists such as Judd and Flavin, whose works display the same impersonal facture (in their case, industrial manufacturing techniques), and serial nature as his own.
The Homage to the Square works nevertheless are full of passion. Their highly controlled technique alone belies an emotional content–rational, cool and detached though it is. Albers' works also lend themselves to a spiritual nature. As Wieland Schmied explains, "Josef Albers went an empirical and more rational way. He doesn't appeal to those areas of feeling of our consciousness that we declare to be the realm of the soul. Hans Arp said about Josef Albers' paintings: 'They contain simple, great statements such as: I'm standing here. I'm resting here. I'm in the world and on earth. I'm in no hurry to move on. While Mark Rothko sought transcendence, Albers looked for fulfillment here on earth. Mark Rothko approached the ethereal through art. Josef Albers realized 'the spiritual in art''" (W. Schmied, "Fifteen Notes on Josef Albers" trans. by B. Barrett and Claudia Deniers in Josef Albers, exh. cat., The Mayor Gallery, London, 1989, pp. 9-10.)
Albers used the square as a vehicle to explore colors: how they relate to each other and, specifically, how that affects one’s perception of colors. He came to develop four templates for his studies within the Homage to the Square series, each based on square forms in units of ten. The present lot illustrates an example with three colors: three squares placed in a precise formation that the artist felt gave weight and movement to his paintings, allowing the viewer to experience a "static fixation". The artist wrote in his seminal book Interaction of Color, "We are able to hear a single tone. But we almost never (that is, without special devices) see a single color and unrelated to other colors. Colors present themselves in continuous flux, constantly related to changing neighbors and changing conditions" (J. Albers, Interaction of Color, New Haven, 1971, p. 5). Further to this point, the artist commented upon envisioning his Homage to the Square series as a total work of art: "Seeing several of these paintings next to each other makes it obvious that each painting is an instrumentation in its own. This means that they are all of different palettes, and, therefore, so to speak, of different climates. Choice of the colors used, as well as their order, is aimed at an interaction–influencing and changing each other forth and back." (exh. cat., 1989, p. 31.)
With its powerful bursts of alluring color and its prodigious geometric composition, the present Homage to the Square: Orange Tone comes to market having remained until now within the same private collection for fifty years.