Josef Albers on colour theory
“In visual perception a colour is almost never seen as it really is – as it physically is. This fact makes colour the most relative medium in art.”
Josef Albers revolutionised the way we understand and use colour. His book, ‘Interaction of Color’, was originally published in 1963. He taught an “experimental way of studying and teaching colour” which is now essential to understanding colour theory today.
The essence of his teachings was that “In order to use colour effectively, it is necessary to recognise that colour deceives continually.”
“First, it should be learned that one and the same colour evokes innumerable readings.” Colour when isolated will appear differently to when placed in a certain context, or among other colours. He used the expression “magic of colours” for the ways they deceive our optical senses.
In the example below, the two small brown squares are the exact same shade, however they don’t appear so.
Each individual will perceive colour differently. How people see colour is subjective, and so varies dramatically between individuals.
Colours are in a continuous state of fluctuation, and so can only be understood in relation to the other colours that surround them.
His ‘Homage to the Square’ series is a collection of paintings exploring the interaction of colours with each other, adjusting hue, tone and intensity to explore optical, and psychological effects. He made over 2,000 of these paintings.
Albers encouraged practice before theory, as theory is the conclusion of practice. He believed that through trial and error, an eye for colour will come with a development of observation and articulation.