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Language Without Words: The Power of Color as Form

Installation Exhibition

Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, GA | May - October, 2019

Most of my work in the studio last Winter was spent formulating and executing two grid paintings. Together, they constituted an Installation for the Georgia Museum of Art, which was displayed on two expansive wall spaces.

Lately, I have been interested in Color Field Theory, and I wanted to incorporate my experiments into a “grid motif.” For this project, proportion became a major consideration as well as the problem of how to best portray the pure colors with such a large format as the walls.

Furthermore, I wanted this project to reference current digital culture and specifically, the part ‘Art’ can play in a ‘virtual reality’ society. So, the question remains: How can Art be relevant in a ‘cyberspace technological culture’?   I am interested in how organic images of the natural world might be incorporated into current geometric and minimalistic styles going into the 21st Century.

During 2018, I had been doing some research about Josef Albers and his ‘painting process,’ including a review of his groundbreaking manual, Interaction of Color, published in 1963. Albers was a master color field theorist, which earned him a place in history alongside the other iconic painters of Post War America. At this same time, I had also been reading The Origin of the Species and discovered that Charles Darwin had a most unlikely affinity for color theory during his lifetime of discoveries. These two figures, living a century apart, were connected by their fascination with color, and eventually I began two wall-sized grid paintings. . .one in honor of Charles Darwin and the other honoring Josef Albers.

The first and larger of the two grids – “Scientist as Artist: Charles Darwin” – is a rectangle of 153, 10-inch square canvases, designed using the same color guidebook that Darwin carried with him during his voyages to the Galapagos Islands This color source book describing the known pigments of that time was titled Nomenclature of Colours, published in 1814 by Gottlieb Werner. Darwin sailed from island to island during the mid-1800’s on the HMS Beagle, as he recorded his journeys and discoveries. He constantly referred to Werner’s guide book as he sketched the flora and fauna and scenery all along the way, and his countless notebooks filled with his colorful drawings are a priceless part of history.

For this part of the Installation of 153 canvases, I hand painted each square a different color, using as my guide the same Werner source book as did Charles Darwin.


The second work in the Installation – “Artist as Scientist: Josef Albers” – is composed of 53, 12-inch squares and is a sort of an appreciation of the genius of this color field painter who appears in history a century after Charles Darwin’s voyage.  For this painting, I used mixtures of Albers’ most often used colors and hoped that the gestalt of each of his pigments would coalesce into a unified whole. The story of Josef Albers was the main thesis of the lecture which I presented at the Georgia Museum of Art, and his story was the real inspiration for the resulting Installation.

Both of these historical figures were on their disparate journeys. . .Darwin set sail to head straight into the unknown on a perilous journey, and he was filled with hope and courage. 

Albers, a century later, likewise set sail. But he and his wife Anni were fleeing for their lives from the perils of war and Hitler’s Germany. They were also filled with hope for a better life in America and the courage to make a new life. Josef Albers would go on to use his experience as a teacher in the renowned Bauhaus School in Germany, which closed in 1933, to become a teacher first at Black Mountain College and then at Yale University for the remainder of his life.

It is appropriate to paraphrase a constant theme which Albers told repeatedly, throughout his life; He said that he never tried to teach his students how to paint. It was never his idea to teach any particular style of method of design. He said, “My entire goal and focus is to teach my students HOW TO SEE.” In this effort he emphasized the necessity of long hours, hard work, and repeated experiments. Albers extolled the virtues of discipline and risk-taking in making art. However, as he insisted throughout his career, his main effort was to teach his students to observe and learn TO SEE “because seeing clearly is the best way to travel the journey of Life, and Life is the greatest experiment of all.”

These two historical figures became the foundation of my work of 2019, and their stories became the inspiration for the Installation,  “Language Without Words: The Power of Color as Form” I am grateful for the opportunity to investigate these stories in a visual way and for the invitation from the Georgia Museum of Art to display my work.

Susan Robert

Highlands, NC  November, 2019

For inquiries, contact Ann Connelly Gallery in Baton Rouge or Brickworks Gallery in Atlanta







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