We never really perceive what color really is, as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.

Josef Albers

Experiments in Color

Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color has been a best-seller since shortly after it was first published by Yale University Press in 1963. The publication, a volume about Albers’ color course featuring recreations of color studies made by his students, was a challenging and experimental undertaking that required the unprecedented approach of putting process ahead of theory, a method Albers employed in the classroom. Further, it required a high level of precision in regards to color and printing. To realize the project, Albers worked closely with two former students; Sewell Sillman who mixed eight-hundred plus color inks for the plates of Interaction of Color, and Norman Ives who arrived at the format of the book divided into three parts: text, eighty folders containing color studies, and Albers commentary on them. 

The present lot comes from the Estate of Sewell Sillman and is a galley proof for Interaction of Color. The proof is comprised of a typed copy of Albers’ text, 75 color study folios that include a mix of screenprints and sketches with hand-written notes by Albers and Sillman as well as several of the original collages and works completed by Albers’ students. This comprehensive collection provides valuable insight into what it took for Albers create a work that remains an influential and groundbreaking book of color still today. 

From the Collection
of Sewell Sillman

This work comes from the collection of the artist, Sewell Sillman (1924-1992). Sewell Sillman’s artistic career began after World War II. In 1948 he attended Black Mountain College with an interest in studying architecture. After courses with Albers and Jennerjahn, Sillman shifted gears enrolling in fine art at Yale University where Albers was the director of the department. Sillman was Albers’ teaching assistant before becoming a regular faculty member, a postion he held for more than a decade. 

In 1956, Sillman organized an exhibition of Albers’ work for the university’s art gallery collaborating with fellow faculty member, Norman Ives to create a companion catalog. Together, Sillman and Ives established the art publishing firm of Ives-Sillman, collaborating with artists such as Josef Albers, Romare Bearden, Roy Lichtenstein, and more, to produce portfolios and high quality prints.

Josef Albers

From a young age, Josef Albers possessed an innate interest in glass and color. His father was a painter, and as a child, Albers loved to watch his father create. Albers commenced his formal training in art under the Dutch glass artist Jan Thorn-Prikker, who was a former follower of Henry Van der Velde. Beginning his studies at the Bauhaus in 1920, Albers quickly became involved in new experimentations in glass and painting. While he was a student, Albers began dating Anni Fleischmann, a talented student in textiles at the Bauhaus and in 1925 the two married. That same year, Josef became the Bauhaus master, the first student to hold the position.

The Albers moved to the United States in 1933, leaving Germany due to the rise of the Nazi Party. The architect, Philip Johnson recommended Josef Albers for a position at the newly formed Black Mountain College. Albers headed the progressive school’s art program and while director he taught many of the most celebrated American artists of the twentieth century, including Ruth Asawa, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Serra, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, and others. In 1949, Albers left Black Mountain College to serve as the Chairman of the Design department at Yale. It was there that he executed his most famous series of paintings entitled Homage to a Square.

Throughout the 1960s, Albers received several commissions to craft murals for new architectural projects; notably, in 1963, he completed a monumental abstract mural for the Pan Am building in New York. In 1971, five years before his death, Albers was the first living artist to be honored with a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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