Albers settled into his new life with remarkable ease. For the first time in almost fifteen years, he picked up a paintbrush to execute a series of remarkably free and expressive colour studies, such as Etude:Red-Violet (Christmas Shopping) 1935. But his early years in the US did not produce an absolute rupture with the past – his ongoing interest in questions of perception was stronger than ever.
Albers’s new delight in colour was accompanied by parallel research into structure, or how the lines and shapes of a painting are organised. The results of this research are clearly visible in works such as in open air 1936 and Related I (red) 1938–43. Moreover, the latter work was the first occasion that he used only ready-made paints straight from the tube, with no mixing of colours, a method that reduced the presence of the ‘artist’s touch’ in the finished work.
In the summer of 1935, Albers and his wife made the first of many journeys to Mexico. He felt a deep affinity with pre-Columbian art, seeing the giant pyramids and small-scale clay figurines as precursors of the Bauhaus ideal of the anonymous artist-craftsman, whose work expressed communal values rather than personal sentiment. Mexican art also suggested a new way to bring together Albers’s largely independent explorations of colour and structure. In their chromatic exuberance as well as their titles, paintings such as To Mitla 1940 and Tierra Verde 1940 refer directly to Mexico as their source of inspiration.