Posts tagged Furniture Design

So so sorry for the radio silence. I was in over my head with market and moving from LA to NY. I think I let a month go by since I've done any sort of design research. Woops! And though I'm still super busy and not in the mood to do anything after hustling so hard, I have been looking at the work of Max Bill lately, so I figured it was time to get back to it.

Max Bill was born in Switzerland in 1908. In his home town of Winterhur, he apprenticed as a metalsmith before studying at the Bauhaus school in Dausau, Germany in 1924. Like most Bauhaus artists, Bill worked with a number of mediums and designed across genres. 

Some of his most notable work in my opinion is in his graphic work, which included typography.(Yes!) But then again I also love the architectural pieces, sculptures and industrial designs he did too, so maybe I actually just love Max Bill.

What's really cool about Bill is that he studied under Bauhuas, but he also hung out with French painters like Hans Arp and Piet Mondrian, whose work represented a movement then called, Abstraction-Création, which influenced him to form his own group known as the Allianz Group in Switzerland in 1937.

The Allianz Group focused on Concrete Art theories pioneered by Max Bill, which was similar to Constructivism, in that both were interested in abstraction, but Bill's theories made a heavier emphasis on color. (A good student of Bauahaus, I'd say)... 

A major tenant of the larger Concrete Art movement of the time, which was the probably the most distinguishing departure from Constructivism, was that Concrete Art strived to make no references to objects found in visible reality or in nature. So out went all the boring notions of cubism and in came really cool shapes.

Once Constructivism spawned in Russia around 1919, its influence on artwork made in Europe lasted through the 1930s. And while Bauhaus ended up a movement in its own right, some of the Bauhaus instructors such as Josef Albers, worked to create the Concrete Art movement. (See my previous posts on Josef Albers for more info). After studying with Bauhaus, hanging out with super cool French painters, and starting his own art group, Max Bill went on to teach at The School of Arts in Zurich in 1944, before forming his own school called the Ulm School of Design in 1953, with artist Inge Aicher-Scholl and Otl Aicher in Ulm, Germany. 

Originally basing their teachings of the Bauhaus school, Ulm School of Design developed a new education approach that integrated art and science. This unorthodox design education even included semiotics in its curriculum, which caused a bit of stir amongst the art and design snobs of the day. And maybe Bill and his friends were actually too ambitious with their education theories, because the school only lasted for 13 years before it closed.

After this foray, Bill started working heavily in architectural and industrial design. He also kept painting and doing graphic design, but his more commercial work in the 1950s might be what he is best known for today.

Max Bill's Ulmer Stool, (pictured above) was made in the 1950s, and is meant to be used either as an modular object that sits on the ground or as shelves mounted on the wall. So pretty! He also worked with Junghans, a Swiss timekeeping company, where he designed watches, clocks and scales, which are still available on the market. v v v (I die).

Being that Max Bill was so prolific much like his predecessors of the Bauhaus school, he worked and exhibited up until his death in 1988.

Towards the end of his life, architects and public planners in Germany and Switzerland began commissioning Bill to make large sculptures to be displayed in public spaces. Nearly all are still on view and are protected by a conservation trust started post-mortem by Max Bill's son.

I could go on forever about this guy but I need to go to bed. If you haven't familiarized yourself with his work, check it out. There's so much... the guy lived for 80 years and worked for almost 60 of them. Soooo coool.

Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016


I'm always thinking about shapes. In jewelry design, most shapes I work with are flat, but even with clothing, how something looks basically comes down to how it is shaped. The next part is what material the shape is made of, and then comes color.

As I begin to finalize my Fall 16 collection, I thought I'd look at the work of Josef Albers, a prolific artist who worked with a variety of mediums at the school of Bauhaus. What I love about Bauhaus in general is that their work was so well-rounded. The students studied color, crafts, textiles, performance, design... the list goes on. And since I work with so many types of materials, I study Bauhaus artists and their theories regularly. 

Bauhaus School Curriculum

Bauhaus artist Josef Albers was born in Germany in 1888. His career began as a stained glass artist, though his work is very distinct in comparison to standard stained glass works. Most stained glass is either traditional (think churches), or crafty (think the 60s). But Albers' work encompasses shape, material and color: the most essential elements of design, in my book.

After studying at the Bauhuas School under Johannes Itten, the color theory master of Bauhaus, Albers became a teacher in color theory at the Bauhaus school himself. With Bauhaus, color theory was a main course in their curriculum, and all of their work in color theory is still used today.

Through the exploration of color, Albers developed a theory that color is seen relative to its surroundings. In various studies that he called Exercises of Color, Albers took solid colored papers, cut them into shapes, and placed them next to, and on top of other colors to demonstrate. What resulted from the same color strip being placed next to, or on top of two other colors, was that the 'same color' appeared as two different shades. This phenomenon is what Albers referred to as Color Relativity.

The small rectangles on the left are the 'same color' but appear as two different shades given their interaction with the neighboring colors. The concentric lines on the right are also the 'same color' but appear to be different shades because of their interaction with the surrounding colors.

These exercises, according to Albers, demonstrate that color is absolute, but that it interacts with other colors, and is thus experienced differently, depending on which colors are interacting with one another.

With this as a foundation, Albers furthered his inquiry by playing with transparency of colors. In this work, Albers showed that with color, what appears to be a form of transparency, is actually a new color all together.  What appears to be the transparent part(s) are in fact another color with various levels of the neighboring colors combined.


Much of what Albers did with his Exercises of Color shaped color theory, which continues to govern the worlds of design and art today. Though Albers developed his theories on color in the late 1920s through the 1930s, it wasn't until 1963 that he published his book, Interaction of Color, through Yale University Press, finally canonizing his ideas for the art world at large.

Applying the simplicity of his findings to his own work, beginning in the mid 1920s, Albers began a series of untitled works that continued throughout his life, resulting in geometric, mostly line based art, using very few colors.

Because Bauhaus focused on interdisciplinary arts, they encouraged the exploration of various mediums. So during his tenure as instructor at Bauhaus, Albers also was the head of the carpentry department. Applying Bauhaus' principle that form follows function, and combining that with his understanding of shape and color, Albers designed furniture that continues to be sought after today. 

Albers also taught a course at Bauhaus on drawing and lettering where he developed a set of fonts.

But sadly, during WWII, Bauhaus dispersed. In 1933 Albers came to the US with his wife, Anni Albers, a Bauhaus trained textile designer and former student of Albers. 

In the US, Albers spent his first two decades teaching at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, before taking the head of design position at Yale in 1950.

While at Yale, Albers began a series of work called Structural Constellations, where he combined his understanding of color and line, while placing very strict parameters on himself to produce "the maximum affect through minimum means."  During this time, and up through the 1960s, Albers created a series called, An Homage to Squares, applying similar principles as the Structural Constellations, but adding the element of color.

After retiring from Yale in 1958, Albers was given a grant to do exhibitions and lectures on his work. Through the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a global tour of his work was shown between the years of 1965 - 1967. Finally, in 1976, four years before his death at the age of 88, Albers was the first living artist to have a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Having lived such a prolific life as an artist, Albers continues to influence design from furniture to type faces, and from color, to line and form today. Though many people seem to be referencing his work in their own contemporarily (especially in fashion), I'm not sure that they are directly aware of its origins. But what makes Albers such an effective artist beyond his impressive ability to work with such a wide array of media, is that his work is so distinctly minimal, that it has become part of the fabric of our collective subconscious. 

Today his legacy lives on in the form of an app put out by Yale called, Interaction of Color by Josef Albers. Yes, that's right, a dude born in 1888 has an app... With this app, one can learn Albers' theories on color while creating study 'sketches' (if you can call a digital thing a sketch). By putting shapes together and applying color, a basic geometric design is made. Each color used in the artwork is broken out for reference at the bottom of the image, so they can then be translated to CMYK, RGB, HEX, Pantone, etc.  I actually recommend using the app for anyone interested in color theory, or for anyone who'd like a tool for creating cohesive color stories for their designs. 

Pretty cool, especially since these ideas were first developed over 100 years ago.

Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2015