For me the work of Josef Albers has always been compelling for the perceptual mechanisms it unmasks in our acts of observing it. The homage to the square series is comprised of literally hundreds of abstract compositions of chromatic interactions. These usually consist of flat squares of colour placed concentrically upon one another. The optical effects that these simple paintings produce is quite beautiful as well as poignant. Depth, movement and ultimately a sense of space is created through what Albers termed ‘halations’, a result from the simultaneous contrast produced on single flat colour.
For example in the red square image below we see an orange red hue in the central square with progressively darker / redder hues behind. The halation effect occurs at the edges of these squares, most noticeably, as the middle hue appears both darker and lighter simultaneously. Our eyes begin to spread the colours into one another creating a subtle optical resonance or vibration. The effect intensifies the longer we look as our eyes begin to fatigue.
As architects these paintings have particular significance, as they create a sense of depth and space with such simplicity. The effects are mysterious and sublime and many architects such as Luis Barragans have been deeply influenced by these studies. Halation effects have also been employed in many religious buildings, the Tibetan monastic traditions for example have a highly refined process of colouring walls and surfaces with layer upon layer of differing hues creating spaces that appear to resonate.
The homage to the square series remains a profound insight into the way we see. They do not illuminate the mechanics and physics of vision, but true seeing as Albers describes transcends reason and leads to an awareness of “the discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect.” These images in a sense point to the very beginning of architecture, not in physical time but in our perceptive faculties.