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Symbolism from Josef Albers

In our everyday lives, we encounter symbolism in many different forms. Some symbolism may be instantly recognizable while other times an individual may have to look deeper and think critically about the underlying meaning of what they are viewing. Joseph Albers’ murals, Growth and Youth, located at the Rochester Institute of Technologies’ George Eastman building are an example of pieces of art with symbolism that is not instantly recognized.

Albers, an abstract painter and color theorist, painted Growth and Youth, two 18’x18’ murals on opposing walls at RIT in 1968. The murals are part of Albers’ series Homage to the Square which he started in 1949. The pieces consist of multiple squares, all of different sizes, nested within each other to create a simplistic and yet eye-catching design.

The squares themselves which Albers used to create these pieces can symbolize organization, boundaries, and structure. The squares, which are different sizes nested within one another represent growth and change. The monochromatic orange and yellow colors used in the pieces are commonly used to symbolize happiness, light, joy, and optimism (Helmers, 44). In the book, View It! The Art and Architecture of RIT, the authors state that the purpose of this series of murals was to explore “the relationships between colors, boundaries, contrast, and harmony, all regulated by the geometry of the square” (Simmons, 8).

The titles of these murals along with their placement are also symbolic. The titles, Growth and Youth are opposing concepts located on opposing walls. The fact that the murals are located at an institution that promotes learning and growth is also symbolic.

Even with the colors and shapes that we acknowledge as symbolic, we still must ask ourselves; did Albers want his murals to be taken symbolically? The titles of the murals, Growth and Youth, are likely our most concrete evidence that Albers in fact did want these pieces to symbolize what we have suggested.

In viewing Growth and Youth, an individual may make reference to Mark Rothko’s 1956 piece, Orange and Yellow, which is visually, has significant similarities to Albers series Homage to the Square. Like Albers, Rothko used simplistic geometric shapes, usually rectangles, nested within one another. Rothko’s pieces, like Albers are monumental in size.

Growth and Youth

References:

Helmers, Marguerite H. (2005). “Picturing Place.” Elements of Visual Analysis.  58-82.

Simmons, Becky and Houghton Wetherald. (2004). View It! The Art and Architecture at RIT. RIT Cary Graphics Art Press. http://books.google.com/books?id=GezclVVR-1AC&pg=PA8&lpg=PA8&dq=Josef+Albers+growth+and+youth&source=bl&ots=r4nV_ddLkH&sig=Y7_KZ7l4nqUgysEr6Jtj42LFmFE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=4ihaULaDMunr0gGXz4Ao&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Josef%20Albers%20growth%20and%20youth&f=false

http://www.markrothko.org/

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