By Jean Marie Carey

Painter, collagist, and designer Alberto Burri was born 12 March 1915 in Città di Castello, Umbria. Burri took an unusual path to becoming an artist known for his highly saturated oil and acrylic paintings, which, later in his career, evolved into collages adorned with embedded pieces of charred wood and rusted metal.

Burri was a first a doctor specializing in tropical medicine, taking his degree from the Università degli Studi di Perugia. When Italy entered World War II in October 1940 Burri was conscripted as a medic and sent to Libya. His unit was captured in in Tunisia, and Burri was held as a prisoner of war in Hereford, Texas, until 1945

While detained Burri began using whatever materials were to hand to make ad-hoc paintings, including scraps of paper and burlap bags. Transformed by the war, he eventually resettled in Rome and abandoned medicine for art. In 1948 his work became non-objective, and in 1949 he anticipated Arte Povera as he began incorporating canvas, wood, and metal in his pictures as collage elements. Often he splashed red paint on the cloth in a way that suggested blood-soaked bandages. He also designed stage decor for La Scala in Milan and other theaters. Burri died in Nice, France, in 1995.

In the fall of 2015, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum mounted the exhibition Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting, the first major contemporary retrospective of Burri’s work in the United States. 

Reference: Ian Chilvers. “Burri, Alberto.” In The Oxford Dictionary of Art: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Rosso Plastica L.A., 1966. Photo by Larry Qualls, Artists Rights Society.

Cellotex, 1983-84. Photo by Larry Qualls, Artists Rights Society.

Sacco No. 2 (#276), 1954. Photo by Larry Qualls, Artists Rights Society.

Nero e Oro, 1951. Photo by Larry Qualls, Artists Rights Society.

Legno e rosso 3, 1956. Photo by Larry Qualls, Artists Rights Society.

Sacco, c. 1990. Photo by Larry Qualls, Artists Rights Society.

Further Reading: Emily Braun, Megan M. Fontanella, and Carol Stringari. Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2015.

Paul Schimmel. Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962. Milan: Skira Rizzoli, 2012. 

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