In my youth, religion provided none of these. I respect those who have genuinely-held religious beliefs – but I don’t. The Catholicism I was taught made no sense to me so I rejected it. Don’t get me started on the subject of Limbo…
When I was eight years old I wanted to be a nun. By the time I was 12, I wanted to be a prostitute. My understanding of what either of these vocations entailed was vague, but it was clear I’d made a choice and religion wasn’t it.
The current exhibition at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery is called ‘The Sacred Modernist – Josef Albers as a Catholic Artist’.
When I was younger, the religiosity of this title would have made me blench, perhaps even recoil in horror.
But I’ve mellowed somewhat over the years, so, despite the religious label, I tootled in for a look.
I’m glad I did.
Josef Albers was a German artist and educator, born in Germany in 1888. He studied art in Berlin, Essen and Munich before attending the prestigious Weimar Bauhaus School, where he was first a student and then a teacher. When the Bauhaus was closed in 1993 due to Nazi pressure, he was forced to move to America with his wife. He taught in Black Mountain College, Carolina, and later at Yale and kept on working as an artist until he died.
As well as being famous for his art, his work as an educator was hugely influential on the way art is taught today.
The image, above, is a stained glass assemblage (Untitled, 1921, Glass, wire and metal, set within a metal frame).
This is a very early work. Albers made it while a student, using fragments of bottles he found in the local dump since he was initially too poor to buy art supplies. Plus ça change – and hurrah for recycling!
It seems to me that all of the elements Albers would later develop and refine are here. I love this piece. It seems so fresh and modern it could have been made yesterday. My photograph does not do it justice.
Tautonym (B) 1944, Oil on masonite (below) is another work that greatly appealed to me.
(Ok, for some reason I can't bung it in here - I have to learn how to do that...!!)
In his later years Josef Albers devoted his time to hundreds of paintings he called ‘Homages to the Square’. He began these paintings in 1950 when he was 62 and continued until his death at age 88, in 1976. The curator’s notes say:
“He never tired of creating new ‘colour climates’ and did not believe there were right or wrong colour systems so much as endless possibilities for visual excitement.”
And here’s the bit I like most:
‘For twenty-six years, the artist deliberately stayed at a remove from the trends of the art world and focused on what he believed was everlasting. When asked how he chose his colours, Josef would reply, “I work and I work and I work, I try this tube and that, I compare a Mars Yellow made by Windsor & Newton to one made by Grumbacher, and then I look up and I thank God”.’
Persistence, hard work, independent thought, endless possibilities, joy. These are things I can believe in.
'The Sacred Modernist – Josef Albers as a Catholic Artist’.
Lewis Glucksman Gallery, University College Cork, Ireland.
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