Josef’s Childhood

Josef’s earliest childhood memory was of going to the local post office with his mother and being enthralled by the checkerboard pattern of the black and white square marble floor tiles. It was a rare recollection of the parent who would die when he was 10 years old, and a joyous first association with the palpable pleasure offered by the rhythmic interplay of black and white, a juxtaposition that would inform his art for entire life. As he grew up, Josef would learn from his father, who was a modest building contractor, a range of manual skills—from the correct way to hammer a nail to the right technique for painting a grave marker (one of Josef’s earliest tasks) to the rudimentary laws of plumbing, electricity, and masonry. He revered those technical skills for the rest of his life, and, conspicuously denying the importance of other artists to his work (he considered the emphasis on stylistic influence to be “the nonsense of art historians,”) used to say, when asked late in life about who had had an impact on his development, “I come from my father, and Adam. That’s all.”

Josef (center) with his brother and sister, 1898