Josef Albers (1888-1976) is best known for a group of works that occupied him for the last 25 years of his life that he called Homage to the Square. He created over 1000 of them starting in 1950 when he was 62 years old. In the course of his long career, Albers worked on stained and collaged glass works, furniture design, typography, printmaking, photography and painting.
Josef Albers, Homage to the Square: Stepped Foliage, 1963. Oil on masonite, 122 x 121.7 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Gift of J. Ronald Longstaffe, Vancouver, 1975. Photo © NGC.
Influential as a teacher, designer, photographer and graphic artist, Josef Albers was a major figure in the development of modern art and design. He is best known for his work as an abstract painter and for his theories on the perceptual interaction of colours. His series Homage to the Square (1949–76) explores how different colour combinations are able to create an endless array of visual effects. Restricting himself to four solid hues per canvas, he applied paint directly from the tube onto Masonite, nestling each precisely measured square into the next, creating perfectly flat yet luminous compositions. In Stepped Foliage the outer three squares draw us into the core of the painting, while the central square appears to radiate outward, eliciting a pulsing or vibrating sensation.