Catalogue cover of the exhibition Contemporary Italian Art, 1967, in which Burri participated.
(12 March 1915 - 15 February 1995)
Alberto Burri was born March 12, 1915, in Città di Castello, a small town in the Umbria region of Italy. In 1940 he received a degree in medicine from the Università degli Studi di Perugia. He served in the Ethiopian campaign and in World War II, first as a frontline soldier and then as a physician. Following his unit’s May 1943 capture in Tunisia, Burri was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Hereford, Texas. Disaffected by war and by his internment, he took up painting in an autodidactic, figurative style and never practiced medicine again. In February 1946, Burri was repatriated to Italy and set up a studio in Rome. After his first solo exhibition, at the Galleria La Margherita in 1947, he visited Paris and was influenced by Joan Miró’s collages and Jean Dubuffet’s thickly painted works incorporating tar. Burri developed a new material realism that stood apart from postwar gestural abstraction and its emotive and existentialist content. He blurred the boundaries between painting and relief sculpture and redefined the concept and the making of the monochrome. In the mid-1950s he turned to mass-produced industrial materials in prefabricated colors and developed a new technique of painting with combustion to make torched wood veneer works (Legni [woods]); welded reliefs of cold-rolled steel (Ferri [irons]); and compositions of melted and charred plastic (Combustioni plastiche [plastic combustions]). His work was exhibited by Richard Demarco as part of the Contemporary Italian Art exhibition in 1967.