Born in 1888, German artist Josef Albers joined the Bauhaus in 1922 showing his flexibility and dexterity across different media including furniture and architectural glass where he collaborated with artists such as Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. With the closure of the Bauhaus in 1933 due to Nazi pressure, Albers moved to the United States where the architect Paul Johnson arranged for him to be offered a job as head of the art school in Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where Albers was head of the painting programme until 1949.
Perhaps because of the strict geometric discipline of the Bauhaus and his architectural links, Albers took a disciplined and honest approach to composition and is remembered most for his paintings and prints in the series “Homage to the Square”, begun in 1949 and which he continued to develop until his death in 1976.
Bringing spring sunshine to the grey sky and rain of London, “Sunny Side Up” at the David Zwirner gallery focuses on works in a multitude of tones around two colours, yellow and orange, linking back to Goethe’s “Theory of Colour” (1810) in which he wrote “a strong yellow on lustrous silk….has a magnificent and noble effect. We also very warm and cosy impression with yellow. Thus, in painting too, it belongs among the luminous and active colours…The eye is gladdened, the heart expands, the feelings are cheered, an immediate warmth seems to waft towards us.” Perhaps this is why breakfast rooms in 18th century houses such as Robert Adam’s Osterley House on the outskirts of London were decorated with walls in bright yellow.
The studies show how much thought went into what appears on first sight to be a simple composition. It is fascinating to see Albers’ notes on the selection and interchange of colours and their proportions. Also included in the exhibition are Albers’ paintings on adobe architecture from the late 1940’s and early 50’s, inspired from his period at the Black Mountain College, which have rectangular and geometric forms, and hint at the much sharper and more fluorescent works of the American artist Peter Halley from the 1980’s which, by coincidence, are on show in London at Stuart Shave Modern Art.