BLACK AND WHITE: JOSEF ALBERS at Waddington Custot Gallery

Waddington Custot Gallery,
11,Cork Street,
London W1

Born: 1888 - Germany
Died: 1976 - USA
Taught: Bauhaus and Yale
Wife: Annie Albers (Woven and Graphic Art)
Pupils: Rauchenberg, Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland
Book: Interaction of Colour 1963
Worked on 'Homage to the Square' for a period of 25 years.

This part of town I don't find myself in very often, it's Bond Street, but, here I am with Robin heading down to the Cork Street Galleries to see a small exhibition of the work of Josef Albers, but first we take ourselves off down a side street for a coffee and a bit of lunch and straight away we discover a perfect little nook just tucked away behind the main street, a very nice spot to find yourself even without the galleries.

Once at the gallery I'm struck by the space, it's a fair size, but not too big, with one large and two small rooms.  As soon as you get in the door your confronted with a superb painting, 'Movement in Grey' 1939 and two similar but smaller works from 1945. Beautiful, soft, creamy greys and whites in a simple geometric composition, the oil paint on masonite is applied with a little texture and not completely flat.

This work gives way to the geometric style Albers is famous for, his 'Homage to the Square' 1966, but here in similar soft greys and creams.  These works are usually three or four squares of solid planes of variable colours or tones and were the vehicle for his colour studies.

Then, all of a sudden, around the corner, I'm in a room with total colour.  This is what I would expect, what I've seen in the Art History books. He's known for these studies, the square theme and now with full chromatic spectrum colours, very pleasing after all the monochromatic work.  There is a second geometric theme now as well called Variant or Adobe and this I learn is a shape based on the houses in Mexico and in the American South-West where he spent some of his life.  They are a bit rougher round the edges than I thought they would be but I like this as it seems to make them easier to relate to.

So, as if coming down from a high I'm led back to the monochrome world in the main gallery.
Strangely though it's the tonal work that leaves a lasting impression on me, it's so calming and harmonious to look at.  Grey can have negative connotations, for example, grey and gloomy weather, like we were having on the day, but here, in a positive light, it's soft, light, creamy and even sensual.

More intense black and white is used in the glass and vinylite pieces.  'Steps' (Interior A&B) 1929 are on sandblasted opaque flashed glass and these lead to the next room where I feel the best work in the exhibition hangs.  Three works called 'Structural Constellation Transformation of a Scheme' 1951 - 64 are exquisite machine engravings on black vinylite. These works are highly reflective, with white geometric lines cut into the surface, some areas have an opaque finish that reveals a softer blackish brown.  I think they are divine and if money were no object they would be mine.

After this highlight we have some 'Graphic Tectonic' studies on graph paper, some tonal studies in gouache called 'Treble Clef' 1930 and a small selection of photographs.

It was Josef Albers' exploration with Black and White that led him to explore and understand colour, with his tonal pieces he explored warm and cold contrasts and light intensity. Very Inspiring. Recommended and free to get in.

Check out the cultured arachnid!

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