- Also known as
primary name: Burri, Alberto
- individual; painter/draughtsman; sculptor/medallist; printmaker; Italian; Male
- Life dates
- Text from Martin Hopkinson, 'Italian Prints 1875-1975', BMP, 2007
Born in Città di Castello, Burri trained initially as a doctor, taking up painting while a prisoner of war in Texas. On repatriation, he settled in Rome, where he painted expressionist landscapes and still - lives. In 1948, inspired by Miro, Klee, Arp, and Prampolini, he began to make highly coloured abstract works. In style, Burri was aligned with Art Informel. He used industrial paint and unorthodox materials, as well as oils. These included tar, pumice, sand, and enamel. Burri delighted in contrasts between smooth and textured surfaces. In 1950, he began to use torn and patched sacking and burlap on a scale that distanced his work from its precedent, the 'Merz-bilder' of Kurt Schwitters. With Ettore Colla, Mario Ballocco and Giuseppe Capogrossi, Burri founded the Gruppo Origine in 1951. He abhorred the decorative and eschewed any hint of spatial illusion. For the rest of his career, Burri worked in series, employing a limited number of colours. Monochrome works appeared first in his pitch black, 'Tars', in 1951. These were succeeded in the later 1950s by the burnt surfaces of his 'Combustioni'. The effects of fire were also found in the melted folds and membranes of Burri's 'Plastics' in the 1960s. More austere were his stacked 'Wood Pieces', and his 'Iron Pieces'.
In the early 1970s, Burri again reduced his colours, in a series of monochrome, mainly black, 'Clays', in which the surfaces was broken up into fissures, which contrasted strongly with his contemporaneous, 'Black and Whites', in which the simplicity of the arcing curves have similarity to the work of Ellsworth Kelly. He had been the best known Italian artist in America from the 1950s. Rauschenberg's early work became indebted to Burri after he visited the Italian's studio in 1953. An affinity with American abstract painting can also be found in his 'Cellotex' series, begun in the mid 1970s, in which he used industrial fibreboard, which he divided into broad areas of single matt colours. For the rest of his career, Burri oscillated between works of this kind, monochromes, and highly coloured paintings that revisited his pictures of the late 1940s.
Burri's earliest known print, a lithograph of a dancing figure against an art informel background dating from 1950, is tinged with Surrealism. He returned to printmaking in 1957 with two prints combining etching and lithography, which were published by Edizioni Castelli in Rome. Two years later, the same publisher issued the first of his 'Combustioni'. However, it was only in 1962 that Burri began to make prints regularly, when he executed three aquatints for Emilio Villa's poems 'Variazioni', which were published in Rome by Edizione Origine. One of these was in relief, and in the others he incorporated collaged gold leaf. These were the first fruits of Burri's long partnership with Valter and Eleonora Rossi's Stamperia 2RC. There followed a set of 'Combustioni' in 1965 (no. 102), and his first set of six 'Bianchi e Neri' in 1967- 68. The latter prints combined engraving, lithography and collage. Burri made his first screenprints in 1969. From then on this was his preferred technique. 75 of his 150 prints were screenprints. Among Burri's finest prints were a set of eight etchings and aquatints, 'Cretti', made in 1971, in which he created a tar like effect of crevasses by applying a mixture of glue and gesso to the matrices. The process of making these prints was so complicated that each took several weeks to complete. The majority of his later works were vividly coloured screenprints, which relate stylistically to his small tempera paintings of the late 1940s. In 1973, Burri began to make 10 lithographs to illustrate Villa's translation of the poems of 'Sappho', a project which involved the use of 200 stones and which was only completed in 1982. In 1986, he turned back to the blacks of the late 1960s in a set of screenprints made with the Stamperia Fausto Baldessarini in Fano, with whom he also made two series of multiples using acrylic and polyvinal acetate glue. It was at Fano that he made the majority of his later prints. Between 1988 and 1990, Burri also worked on 10 mixografias at Luis and Lea Remba's Mixografia Workshop in Los Angeles.