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Josef Albers

Born 1888, Bottrop, Germany
Died 1976, New Haven, USA

Albers initially trained as a teacher, working at a school in his home town of Bottrop from 1908 to 1913. In 1920 he enrolled as a student at the Weimar Bauhaus on the preliminary course taught by Johannes Itten, one of the influential founders of modern colour theory. He joined the faculty of the Bauhaus in 1922 and a year later the director and founder, Walter Gropius, appointed him to join the staff in the Department of Design.

In 1925, when the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, Albers was promoted to professor working alongside artists among whom were Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee. While here he married a fellow student Anni Fleischmann who worked in the medium of weaving and who, as Anni Albers, was to become one of the most original and influential weavers of the twentieth century, whose abstract geometric designs combined the ancient craft with the language of modern art.

In 1933, under pressure from the Nazi regime, the Bauhaus was closed and the artists dispersed, mostly moving abroad. The Albers emigrated to the United States where Josef was offered a post at a new art school, Black Mountain College, in North Carolina where he was the head of the painting program until 1949. In 1950, Albers left Black Mountain to head the department of design at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut where he remained until retiring from teaching in 1958.

When he first arrived at Black Mountain College a student asked him what he was going to teach, he later recalled: “I said ‘to open eyes’ - and this has become the motto of all my teaching”. His extensive experimentation and theorising about perception and the nature of colour certainly bears this out and led to a body of work which had a lasting influence on many artists such as the ‘hard-edge’ and ‘colour field’, American abstract painters, as well as the later Op artists.

Day and Night V
Day and Night IX