My glass paintings. That was my aim. I had to go to the Bauhaus to the basic course that was given by Itten. And I submitted to that although I was a little older than Itten. But I have not the best memories of my studies there. So when that course was over everyone had to exhibit his work and then it was decided whether or not one could continue. I was accepted to continue. But I wanted to go into a workshop and I wanted to make stained glass. That was my old dream. Glass pictures. But Itten thought I was not ready for that. Certainly to delay my study in glass, Itten said, "Glass painting is a branch of wall painting and you should go first to our wall painting workshop," And I said, "That's nonsense. Wall painting has to do with reflected light and glass painting with direct light." So I said, "Sorry, I'll do my own stuff on my own.”

 

-- Josef Albers on June 22, 1968. The interview took place in New Haven, Connecticut and was conducted by Sevim Fesci for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Albers in Glass

                                 

by Deanna Sirlin

 

Josef Albers,

Park, ca. 1923,

glass, metal, wire, and paint, 191⁄2 × 15 in (49.5 × 38.1 cm)

© 2017 Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


 

I had been thinking about the Artist Josef Albers for selfish reasons. For the last eighteen years, I have been involved in making public art works using transparent media imbedded or laminated in glass that are meant to be sympathetic and in conversation with the architecture of the buildings that house them. I have found the Bauhaus to be compelling for the way it advocated collaboration between architecture and design. While perusing the bookstore at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta some years ago, I was more than a little surprise to find a catalogue titled Josef Albers Glass, Color, and Light from an exhibition at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice in 1995. This exhibition traveled to Rome, Valencia, New York, and finally to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, I did not see the exhibition at any of these venues. This was pre-Internet (at least for me) and until finding this book at Emory in 1998, Albers’ glassworks were unknown to me and, I suspect, many others.

Remaking shards of glass in post WWI Germany into abstract works of color and luminosity suggests a desire for healing and to restore what was broken and make it new, a penchant for color and design, and for the tradition of German romantic painting. The richness of the color of the glass calls up the intensity of the light in the German Romantic landscapes of Otto Runge and Casper David Friedrich.  

The earliest glassworks by Albers in the catalogue are Figure, 1921 and Rheinhche Legende (Rhenish Legend) both in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. These works are made from shards of glass in rounded and broken shapes attached to a copper plate that has a painterly patina. These glassworks are highly reminiscent of painting, but are also very physical in their presence. Each fragment of glass is intensely colored and is in dialogue with the whole. The copper plate’s patina has the feel of brushstrokes that surround and activate the composition. There is also a suggestion of collage in these works that call up the work of fellow German artist Kurt Schwitters, who used discarded paper and wood materials in his Dadaist works. There is no evidence that Albers and Schwitters were friends, but Albers certainly knew of the Dadaists. In 1934, he made a print titled “i” which is thought to have been inspired by Schwitter’s “Das i-Gedicht” (“The i-Poem”), published in 1922, a copy of which Albers owned.

Park, c. 1924 is made of found glass and glass samples which Albers cut and attached with copper wire and then placed a grid of fence lattice work over the glass that resembles the leading used in stained glass. This work features grids of colors and the play with squares predicts Alber’s Homage to the Square, a series of works he did not begin until 1949. It derives its energy from the geometric play of color and color proportions, predominately blues and blue greens.

While he was still in Germany, Albers’ search to remove the black lines of the grid from his work so that color could have a purer relationship led him to a series of works in sandblasted flash glass. Flash glass is a process where the glass is layered in several sheets and fired in the glass oven. Albers would start with a translucent milky glass sheet and add a colored thinner sheet as a second layer. These would be fused together by baking in the glass oven. For the next step in the process, Albers, using a template or stencil that he created, and would sandblast the layered glass in a geometric pattern. Sandblasting with a stencil allows for a crisp clean edge between the rectilinear shapes. Albers would then paint in a third color, usually black to add more rectilinear shapes and density to the composition. This process gave these glassworks great luminosity in their color; the translucency and the flatness of the glass color produce intense hues. Albers’ use of the stencil and sandblasting technique enabled him to repeat these images, making these works precursors to his Homage To The Square. Being able use the same composition allows Albers the freedom to explore values of color.

Albers has influenced generations of artists, not only through his teaching but also through his work. The test of an artist’s impact is the degree to which they inspire other artists in their own work, and Albers’ influence can be seen in the work of a wide range of contemporary artists. German artist Imi Knoebel, who is known for his works that are about color, recently made new stained glass for the Cathedral of Reims in France which had been bombed during WWII. French artist Daniel Buren’s geometric installations now include works using transparent color. Icelandic and Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, whose work often takes color as its central concern, made Rainbow Panorama for the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Denmark. In this glasswork on the roof of the museum viewers actually walk through a circular walkway made of glass and view the city through the spectrum of color. American artist Spencer Finch perhaps is closest to Albers’ thought in his work Color Test, 2014. Finch used two layers of transparent Fuji film printed in a geometric pattern that filter the white light of LEDs behind them. This work bears a relationship to Albers’ notion of a luminous glass work on the scale of a wall painting (it is 30 x 30 inches) but I like to think Albers would have enjoyed Finch’s work The River That Floats Both Ways, 2009 which is in an existing building on the Highline in New York City. It includes 700 panes of rectangular glass that “represent the colors of the Hudson River over 700 minutes in a single day.”

 

Albers worked in glass while he was a student at the Bauhaus. When visiting the Josef Albers Foundation in Connecticut I was fascinated to learn that Albers never mixed his colors but used the paint directly out of the tube. As a painter, this was a revelation to me; I thought all the colors in Albers’ work were painstakingly made by mixing and creating these hues, and I have to admit I was shocked to learn that simply purchased paint in tubes and dealt with the given color and its interaction with others. My shock turned to delight. Conceivably this process of using what was readily available came from Albers’ work in glass, which was made from shards of glass that he found in a Weimar garbage dump. It was in these early glassworks that Albers first explored the importance of color and specific techniques, such as the use of templates and the serial repetition of images. He gained insight into the nature of color through his manipulations of prefabricated industrial materials that allowed him to investigate all the parameters of intensity of hue.

Josef Albers

Gitterbild (Grid Mounted), ca. 1921

glass, metal, and wire, 123⁄4 × 113⁄8 in (32.4 × 28.9 cm)

© 2017 Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

 

Josef Albers 

Figure, 1921

glass assemblage mounted on brass sheet 21.5 x 15.5 in (54.6 x 39.4 cm).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

© 2017 Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Josef Albers,

Aufwärts (Upward) ca. 1926

Sandblasted flashed glass with black paint, 17 × 113⁄4 in (43.2 × 29.8 cm)

 © 2017 Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Josef Albers

 Frontal, ca. 1927

sandblasted flashed glass with black paint, 133⁄4 × 187⁄8 in (34.8 × 47.9 cm)

 © 2017 Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Spencer Finch 

The River That Flows Both Ways,

2009

700 colored panes of glass, 120 x 12 feet

The High Line, New York, NY

Courtesy of the Artist and James Cohan New York

Daniel Buren 
Photo-souvenir: From Three Windows, 2006

Works in situ
Modern Art Oxford

Courtesy Lisson Gallery

Daniel Buren 
Colours for a pergola: situated work, 2014

Clear acrylic sheets, coloured self-adhesive filters, wood, screws, white paint, self-adhesive black vinyl 
3 x 9 x 3 m / 9 7/8 x 29 1/2 x 9 7/8 in.

Courtesy Lisson Gallery

 

Olafur Eliasson

Your Rainbow Panorama 2011

ARoS
Aarhus, Denmark

Photo: Martina Laute-Voßwinkel

© 2006 - 2011 Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Your Rainbow Panorama 2011

ARoS
Aarhus, Denmark

Photo: Ole Hein Pedersen

© 2006 - 2011 Olafur Eliasson

Spencer Finch 

Color Test (169)

2016

Fujitrans and LED lightbox

30 1/2 x 30 1/2 x 4 1/2

Courtesy of the Artist and James Cohan New York

 

Deanna Sirlin is an artist. Sirlin recently finished Before You Leap, a Public Art Commission in Glass  for Emmett O'Brien Technical High School for the Connecticut Office of the Arts (COA). Sirlin is pictured here [yellow hard hat] during the installation of this work  with her insurance agent, Kathy Crooker. She is Editor-in-Chief of  The Art Section. 

 

www.deannasirlin.com