Nero Mi n.5, 1989
Acrylic and pumice stone on celotex
102 x 152 cm / 40.2 x 59.8 in
Burri. Catalogo Generale, Città di Castello 2015, vol III, p. 321, tav. 2145, ill. in colour, vol. VI, p. 291, i.892, ill. in colour.
Rome, Milart Gallery, Burri, November-December 1989, n. 5 ill. in colour.
Bologna, Arte Fiera, Stand Galerie Sapone, I Cellotex nell’autobiografia di Burri, 2006, pp. 26-27, n. 13, ill. in colour, p.35 (cat.)
Born in Città di Castello, near Perugia, in 1915 Alberto Burri graduated from university with a medical degree in 1940 and became a medical officer during World War II. In 1943 he was taken prisoner by the Allies in Tunisia and sent to Camp Hereford in Texas, a prisoner-of-war camp for those who had refused to cooperate with the Allies. It was during this time that Burri began to paint and on his return to Italy in 1946 he completely abandoned his medical career and became an artist. He held his first solo show in 1947 in Rome at the Galleria La Margherita. The works he displayed at his inaugural solo exhibition were still figurative and exemplified the influence of the ‘tonal painters’ of the Roman School during 1930s. It was during his second solo exhibition, held at the same gallery in May 1948, that Burri exhibited abstract works for the first-time, revealing his affinities with the language of Jean Arp, Paul Klee and Joan Miró.
At the end of 1948 he went to Paris, where he visited Miró’s studio and also saw the most recent abstract work by Alberto Magnelli, a landmark for the new generation of Italian artists who were seeking new innovations.
The 1950s started with a year of great experimentation for Burri, which inaugurated the Muffe [Molds] series, combining the use of the pumice stone with traditional oil painting. During the same year the first Gobbo [Hunchbacked] with its bulging characteristic, obtained using wooden branches placed on the back of the canvas, and Sacco, made entirely with jute, rolled and covered, came to light. In 1951 he founded the ‘Origine’ Group with Mario Ballocco, Giuseppe Capogrossi and Ettore Colla and the following year exhibited Neri e Muffe at the Galleria dell’Obelisco in Rome. A few years later two of his works were included in the Younger European Painters group exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, supported by the director James Johnson Sweeney who was impressed by the artist’s talent when they met in Rome in 1953. The late 1950s saw his combustion experimentations on wood, plastic and canvas, and Burri’s new interest in the use of welding within a two-dimensional pictorial space.
In 1970s he began the Cretti [Cracks] series, which originated from a combination of acrylic adhesives and other materials, such as clay, kaolin and zinc white, used to cover the canvas. The granular mixture swelled and cracked in contact with air when it was heated. The artist was there to control the cracking process and to block it with a layer of vinyl glue whenever it reached the desired equilibrium. The Cretti series was first exhibited in Bologna in 1973 at the Galleria San Luca. Two years later in the anthology exhibition at the convent of St. Francis of Assisi Burri presented a new experimentation realised on celotex, a building material generally used as an insulator and made from a mixture of glue and sawdust.
A similar process can be recognised in the present work, where the material has been scraped and engraved with wise precision. It has lost its anonymous industrial nature and become the origin of a tight dialogue between light and shadow. The interest of the artist is entirely concentrated on the principle, the pure material shaped in clean and perfect figures. The critic Giulio Carlo Argan writing about Burri described him as an ‘art dermatologist’: ‘if Morandi looks at the bottles, Burri looks at the glass. As a doctor he controls the surface, the skin, the pores, the hair, like an art dermatologist’.
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