- BurriBy C. Brandi
- Alberto Burri: The Trauma of PaintingEdited by Emily Braun and Megan M.Fontanella
- Alberto Burri - Black works: Cellotex 1972-1992By Massimo Di Carlo and Laura Lorenzoni.
- Alberto BurriBy Germano Celant
- Albert Burri: Il grande cretto di GibellinaBy Massimo Recalcati
- Catalogue RaisoneeBy Alberto Burri
Important Art by Alberto Burri
The Catrami, or tars, were Burri's first series of paintings that explored the properties and tones of the color black . Covering his canvas with tar, and tar-like substances, Burri, in the description offered by the Guggenheim, "gouged and scraped the dense, viscous material into rich relief topographies of cavities and scabs, incising the surface with grid lines, sometimes adding pumice stone for texture or drips of black enamel paint".
Here the image appears like a collage, juxtaposing the manmade biomorphic shapes with the scaly, apparently random, impasto textures within them. Close inspection reveals a sense of movement and incongruity, displaying Burri's ability to transform the mundane into something fascinating, primeval and alive. Though abstract, the Catrami helped define a new sense of realism. Curator, Emily Braun, observed that Burri's "early compositions look like a collage. It's as if he cut out shapes and glued them onto a flat plane [...] He's focusing our attention on the materials themselves: all of their innate qualities, what makes them alive or what makes them seemingly abject or unpleasant but ultimately quite beautiful. And this focus on what they're made of and how he makes them is what we call a material - and process -based realism".
It is an interesting footnote to record that beneath Catrame 2's thick tar surface, conservation scientists working at the Guggenheim in New York "discovered a colorful figurative painting from an earlier period" and another on the verso, or reverse, of Burri's canvas.
Following immediately on from his black tar Catrami works, Burri turned his attention to exploring the properties of white. His new project was rooted in his fascination with Renaissance art, the white ground of frescoes, and the gesso layer underlying paintings. This example, one of his first Bianchi, explores the variety of shades, textures and effects that can be achieved with white alone (and small traces of black from the base of a paint can). Burri swirls and drips the pigment, mixing it with sand or crushed pumice stone, spreading it with his fingers, a knife or a trowel, leaving the expressive, physical process of making the image exposed. Braun suggests that with this piece, Burri "makes us aware of all of the different applications of the white paint" and that Burri turns his painting into "this scruffy, eloquent thing [with] lumpy, paint trickled, lathered, smeared, dripped, and transferred".
While it was never been formally acknowledged by the American artist himself, the Bianchi seems likely to have made an impact on the development of the art of Cy Twombly, who visited Burri's studio during this period and saw his works at Rome's Obelisco Gallery. Twombly later returned to live in Rome where he recreated, in works that carried echoes of Burri's Bianchi, the effects of the Mediterranean sun on crumbling, bleached surfaces.
In the series labelled Gobbi (Hunchbacks), Burri wedged objects - such as tree branches or metal rods - behind the canvas, causing distortions to the image surface and straining the canvas to create a prominent hump. The taut picture plane is thus put under physical stress, bent out of shape and thrust forward towards the viewer. Burri termed this the "invasive space" technique. In this fine example of painting merging with sculpture, two fabric scraps stuck to the vermilion background and three punctured circles accentuate the protrusions created by the unseen curved metal rod. The damage that Burri inflicts upon his materials places him at odds with the flatness and aspirations towards purity of much modern painting. The Gobbi seem to continue a logical progression from Burri's earliest abstract works in which he was arranging his colours and forms so that they appeared to exist on different levels. One might call this as a philosophical reversal of Synthetic Cubism's attempt to capture multiple planes from a single viewpoint, despite the similar use of collaged scraps and printed materials.
It has often been suggested that the contrasting elements - stitched sacking so prevalent in its use for sandbags and carrying supplies, the black reminiscent of charred buildings, and red with its connotations of blood - reference Burri's training as a doctor and the traumatic experience of front line military service. According to curator James Johnson Sweeney, Burri "transforms rags into a metaphor for bleeding human flesh, breathes life into the inanimate materials which he employs, making them live and bleed". For Sweeney, the "picture is human flesh, the artist a surgeon". It was not, however, a reading endorsed by Burri who said "I have worked with a big red space that is expanding forward and in all directions. With the other elements it is involved in a whole chain of pulls and tensions. But this is only the architectonic structure. For the rest I have nothing to add". Burri may (unconsciously) also be referencing a rich tradition in Italian art, translating the red, black and gold of Renaissance drapery into a meditation upon the trauma of post-War Italy. However one wishes to interpret it, the work, like so much of Burri's output, is a merging of both painting and sculpture; the abstract and the figurative. "It is a picture, or better yet, the fiction of a picture", wrote the critic Giulio Carlo Argan, "a sort of reversed trompe l'oeil in which the picture no longer imitates reality but reality imitates a picture".
Still struggling to garner the approval of the Italian critics or public, Burri's fortunes received a welcome fillip from Lucio Fontana who was the first significant figure to endorse Burri's work by purchasing a piece from the same series. Indeed, in the 2000 exhibition, "Against Nature", featuring Burri, Fontana and Pierre Manzoni, New York's Sperone Westwater Gallery stated in their press release that the three men formed an informal group of Italian artists who were "searching for truth in new places" and that, between them, the men located this "truth" in "materials that came from urban and industrial refuse". It was "through these new materials - polyester, cotton fibers, cut canvas, burlap, glue, neon, glass etc. - [that] the canvas became a theatrical place where a new pictorial space could emerge".