Josef Albers (1888-1976)
Homage to the Square: "Ascending"
Oil on composition board
Overall: 43 7/16 × 43 7/16 in. (110.3 × 110.3 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase
Rights and Reproductions Information
© artist or artist’s estate
Josef Albers began his Homage to the Square series in the summer of 1949, and made more than a thousand related paintings (ranging in size from 12- to 48-inch squares) over the next twenty-five years. Albers developed four related layouts, three of them composed of three squares each, and the fourth composed of four squares. These strictly ordered compositions were merely means to an end. He explained: “The scheme of the Homages has no real esthetic consequences by itself. There were hundreds of possibilities, but since my main problem is color. . .let’s have a scheme, a cooking pot that cooks for four people, and no more. Therefore, let the colors react in the prison in which I put them.”
Each work reveals how our perception of a single color is variable—it might project or recede, look brighter or dimmer—depending on its proximity to and interaction with adjacent colors. “Ascending” is typical of the paintings in the series. To make each one, Albers would squeeze the paint directly from the tube and then, using a palette knife, spread it evenly on wood fiberboard panels, which he preferred to canvas because of the resistance offered by its hard surface. Like a composer writing imaginative variations on a single melodic theme, Albers created countless color combinations in which the value and effect of individual colors change markedly from work to work.