A multifaceted designer who primarily considered himself a painter, Herbert Bayer (1900–1985) was a dedicated Bauhaus adherent in Germany before establishing himself in America. As an impressionable young student, Bayer was guided by the formidable Bauhaus faculty, including Walter Gropius (1883–1969) and Marcel Breuer (1902–1981); he became director of the typographic workshop at Dessau, and in 1928 left his master position to pursue his career in Berlin. In 1938, Bayer immigrated to the United States at the request of the Museum of Modern Art for the comprehensive task of curating and designing the first Bauhaus exhibition in America, held at the museum in New York. A true disciple of the Bauhaus doctrine of gesamtkunstwerk, Bayer embraced all media and strove to create integrated design systems, especially in his architectural and environmental works. Through the arc of his career, he oscillated between strictly geometric and freely expressive styles, paradoxically both embedded in nature and the cosmos—Chromatic Circles, seen here, is a brilliant example of his artistic philosophy in practice.
Chromatic Circles is one of several wall hangings commissioned for the Los Angeles ARCO offices. Immediately apparent is the influence of his Bauhaus mentor Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944). Bayer was inspired by Kandinsky well before his Bauhaus days—his treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911) informed Bayer's ideas about color, in particular. Executed by the American carpet manufacturer V'Soske in nine vivid colors of tufted wool, Chromatic Circles is in keeping with Bayer's post-1966 paintings, which abandoned a monochromatic palette in favor of investigations of color. Here, celestial spheres (reflecting Bayer's fascination with mathematics and cosmic proportions) hover in a field of sky blue—a color so personal it is often called "Bayer blue" by scholars. At center is the largest orb of intense, deep violet, overlapped by four circles of different sizes and hues. An effect of color transparencies occurs when the orbiting spheres intersect with the purple: acid and emerald green convert to geranium pink and tangerine, respectively, and citron yellow shifts to magenta. Only the lone circle completely encompassed by the violet orb is entirely golden. These color interferences add the pulsating effect of simultaneously receding and surfacing forms; more subtle dimension is imparted by the chiseled contours of the violet sphere, which has a slightly higher pile than the others.
The Herbert Bayer Collection and Archive is part of the Denver Art Museum. Comparable carpets (probably also made for ARCO) in this archive include Celestial Gate with Fading Square, 1960s (1991.1266), Prismatic Gate, made by V'Soske in 1974 (1995.941), and Color Progression in Squares, 1979 (2002.63), a gift of ARCO Corporate Art Collection, Los Angeles.