Burri Alberto: the artist was born in Città di Castello on March 12th 1915.


 
Doctor in the war
 In 1940 he obtained his medical degree at the Perugia University and during his military service was an officer in the Medical Corps until 1943, when he was taken prisoner by the British in Tunisia. He started painting while he was prisoner of war at Hereford, in Texas.


First personal exhibition
 After his return to Italy in 1946 he developed his artistic interests, going to live in Rome with a cousin of his mother, the musician Annibale Bucchi. His first personal exhibition of expressionist landscapes and still life was at the La Margherita gallery in 1947. The following year, after a series of experiments inspired by Joan Mirò and Paul Klee, he started to create his first abstractions in a cycle of found object works.


Fascinated by colour
 Right from the start Burri was sensitive to the appeal of the physical properties of both artistic and industrial colours, creating images of refined elegance using impoverished materials. “Blacks” were obtained by varying the consistency of the colour, creating shiny and opaque surface contrasts, random cracking rhythms and texture variations in the encrusted pigment.


Monochrome
 In the “moulds”, the additives in the pigments produced “efflorescence” of colours similar to a bacterial culture. Burri also introduced the monochrome concept back in 1951, with the pitch black “tar” series. Canvasses and traditional frames were used in an anomalous manner to create three-dimensional “humps” between 1950 and 1952, where Burri inserted wooden supports to give the work a sculptural effect. At the same time he terminated a radical re-invention of collage with “sacks”: rough patched and mended canvasses mounted on the frame, often with printed captions of where they originally came from.


Details

 Although this technique had a precedence in the “Merz paintings” by Kurt Schwitters, Burri’s compositions abandoned the ironic aspect to give way to a wider dimension and a tragic vision, always subordinating the qualities of roughness and casualness to the rigour of the compositional structure underneath

 

"Texas" 1945

"Nero" 1948

"Nero e oro" 1992

"Grande legno" 1959

 

 

 

“Origin”
In 1951, together with Ettore Colla, Mario Ballocco and Giuseppe Capogrossi. Burri founded the “Origin” group. Their manifesto exalted the elementary qualities of painting, leaving aside the spatial illusion and descriptive colour, even if Burri’s canvasses were inevitably interpreted as images of landscapes, biological processes, ”living flesh” as metaphors of rotten flesh and decadence. He was supported by the critic J.J.Sweeney, who included him in the “Young European Painters” exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and was the author of the first monograph on the artist, published by the Obelisco Gallery in 1955.
 


America
The artist started to exhibit his works abroad in 1953. They were accepted favourably by the critics; the exhibitions at the Frumkin Gallery in Chicago and the Stable Gallery in New York promoted him to being the most famous post-war Italian artist in America. Robert Rauschenberg, after visiting his studio twice in 1953, started to produce his first “combine paintings”
 


“Combustions”
The theme of metamorphosis induced Burri to burn, melt and char materials in the “combustions” and “irons” at the end of the ‘fifties, then in “woods” and “plastics” at the beginning of the ‘sixties. The “cellotex” cycle started in 1975, tables composed of sawdust and glue and he further deepened his search on dramatic forms and harsh colours of synthetic materials.
 


Pure abstractionism

The combination of formal composition and casual process threw a bridge between the informal art generation and that of impoverished art. The work of Burri, together with that of Fontana has been the most original and radical in Italy of the ‘Fifties, inspiring an art of pure abstraction, independent from the gestural spontaneity of the European informal trend.
 


Exhibitions
Many exhibitions have been organised with Burri’s works, both in Italy and abroad; a wide retrospective exhibition of his work took place in Milan in 1985. His more recent works have been shown at the Venice Biennial exhibition in 1988.

The artist lives and works in Città di Castello and in Los Angeles.

 

 

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