Although Rebecca Salter‘s six years in Japan made an undeniable impression on her work, her three month residency in 2003 at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, in Bethany, has also had a significant impact. According to Gillian Forrestor, the Yale Centre for British Art’s curator of prints and drawings, “Salter had envisaged that her work at Bethany might take the form of homage to Josef Albers’ practice.”
As such a notable abstract artist and Bauhaus teacher, it could be said that it was inevitable that with abundant access to his work, Salter was going to admire and be inspired by the simplicity in the relationship between colour, light and shape that Josef Albers so often incorporated. Both inspired by cultures beyond their own, Albers’ and Salter’s geometric disorder allows the interweaving of disparate cultures and styles homogeneously. Salter favouring the blending of the styles of the East and West, Albers incorporating his German Bauhaus roots into American abstraction.
Albers’ paintings even many years after the German Bauhaus movement ended, continued to explore the style and philosophies surrounding the group. The school considered colour and shape as separate entities, purified of complicated design.
Working along the same lines, Rebecca Salter’s painting ‘AD30‘ (2012) revitalises the relationship between colour and shape that Josef Albers so carefully studied. In her work, although colour may appear secondary to texture and shape, an active observer will notice the hints of yellow and blue that seep through the monotone painting that become inescapable once perceived. This excitement is further intensified by the variety of the ink tones which creates a subtle juxtaposition between the sometimes barely visible geometric shapes. Coupled with flowing lines, a sense of movement appears to be created.
The biggest contrast between the Bauhaus Master and Salter would be that Albers revelled in scientific methodology and explicit structure. His famous, ‘Homage to the Square’ series, which Albers worked on from the age 62 until his death, where each painting has layered colours of squares, is imbued with a sense of drama through the contrast in colours; “poetry through scientific means” as Albers saw it.
Conversely, Rebecca Salter appears to appreciate intermingling frigidity with freedom through her shapes, creating a formalised sense of mayhem. Spontaneity appears before any idea of structure becomes evident, which may result from the subtle incorporation of her surroundings into her work, as seen in the work ‘H2‘ (1992) from her tessellated series. Salter highlights “the idea to cut up the original drawings/paintings came out of an attempt to try to capture the speed of the changing weather and how it ‘disrupted’ the landscape. I wanted the final lines in my paintings to be disrupted in a similar way.”
While Josef Albers attempted to create works that challenged our emotions and perceptions of reality, Salter pushes boundaries one step further by bridging the gap altogether. This becomes even more apparent when looking at the change in her work during her residency at the Albers Foundation, as the secluded rural area of Bethany where the institution is located can be felt in her works. A sense of the horizon is created in her series from that period through the natural juxtaposition of lighter and darker spaces from top to bottom, as seen in ‘Bethany Monoprint 17’ (2004).
Rebecca Salter’s paintings are certainly reminiscent of the Bauhaus Master’s abstract works, but the way she brings the natural world into her manmade pieces is something that is also truly admirable and unique.