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Conrad Marca-Relli Photo

Conrad Marca-Relli

American Painter

Born: June 5, 1913 - Boston, Massachusetts
Died: August 29, 2000 - Parma, Italy
Movements and Styles:
Abstract Expressionism
"Collage forces you to think and clarify ideas, with regard to both space and volumes. This discipline obliges me to think in terms of forms, outlines, real and imagined spaces, so as not to fall into the temptation of thinking that nature is a reality."
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Conrad Marca-Relli Signature
"Painting has nothing to do with imitating life. It has a life of its own life, in it reality is based on its own rules."
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Conrad Marca-Relli Signature
"You get a linear quality from collage that is more rapid than the swiftest drawn line."
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Conrad Marca-Relli Signature

Summary of Conrad Marca-Relli

Conrad Marca-Relli was a Boston-born painter and sculptor who belonged to the early generation of New York School Abstract Expressionist artists. Following a period of painting Surrealist inspired imagery, Marca-Relli made a critical breakthrough with large-scale collage paintings that frequently drew inspiration from the human form to create abstract compositions of interlocking curves and angles. He is considered to be one of the first artists to raise the art of collage to a status comparable with monumental painting, which paved the way for the large "combine paintings" of the Neo-Dada artists of the 1960s.


  • Early in his career, Marca-Relli recognized that for abstraction to be emotionally moving, the use of psychologically affecting shapes and textures were necessary. Contours and shapes in his work were therefore based on imagined architectural themes or figure arrangements but were deliberately left ambiguous.
  • Marca-Relli took a constructive approach to image making, building up surfaces by cutting out and applying shapes to canvas or metal supports. He did not seek gestural movement or uncontrolled spontaneity, but sought to create controlled, complex compositions of interlocking forms.
  • Marca-Relli maintained strong links to Europe throughout his life and did not wish to break from the traditions of the "Old World" unlike many of his contemporaries. He lived and worked in France, Spain, and Italy and looked to European painters from the Renaissance, Cubism, and metaphysical movements for inspiration.

Biography of Conrad Marca-Relli

Conrad Marca-Relli Photo

Conrad Marca-Relli was born Corrado di Marcarelli in Boston, Massachusetts to Italian immigrant parents. Marca-Relli's father was a news commentator and a journalist whose job required frequent travel, he therefore spent much of his childhood moving back and forth between the United States and Europe. He began to draw at an early age and was encouraged by his family to pursue his artistic interests, taking his first lessons during his many extended trips to Italy. There he developed a lasting feeling for the heritage of Italian art and culture and the atmosphere of European life. When he was thirteen, Marca-Relli and his parents permanently settled in New York, where Marca-Relli finished his last year of high school at night so he could dedicate his days to painting.

Progression of Art



This untitled painting from 1940 reveals the influence of Giorgio di Chirico on Marca-Relli's early career as a painter. This strangely unpopulated square is strongly evocative of di Chirico's enigmatic imagery inspired by the architecture and melencholy atmosphere of Turin. The archway in the background indicate the scene is an imagined European city with its tilted perspective enhancing the flatness of the picture plane.

Oil on board - Private Collection


Seated Figure

Seated Figure won Marca-Relli the prestigious Logan Medal of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1954. The composition was produced during a period in which the artist focused almost exclusively on interpretations of single figures using layered planes of collaged canvas. In these works, Marca-Relli sought to explore abstract form using "the architecture of the human figure" as a starting point for interchanges between light and dark, positive and negative space.

Oil and canvas on linen - The Art Institute of Chicago



The interlocking biomorphic forms in Trial represent the increasing complexity of Marca-Relli's collage technique during the 1950s. The artist has deliberately obliterated any recognizable sections of human anatomy, yet the work suggests a myriad of jostling figures. This vast composition combines an extraordinary variety of overlapping shapes, textures and contrasts to create a sense of movement that was inspired in part by Paolo Uccello's monumental battle scenes.

Oil on canvas and collage - The Minneapolis Institute of Arts


The Surge

In the late 1950s, Marca-Relli embarked on a series of works that were ambitious in their scale, complexity and color harmonies. With Surge, Marca-Relli abandoned his formerly subdued palette of off-white and ochre to introduce bold zones of color as a new formal element in his paintings. The jostling blue, red and yellow shapes that expand outwards from a tight mass at the centre of the canvas convey a sense of intense energy and movement.

Oil and collage on canvas - The Cleveland Museum of Art


Cristobal (L-12-62)

Cristobal displays Marca-Relli's developing interest in new materials such as vinyl and plastic. Created in 1962, this composition abandons painterly lyricism and any reference to naturalistic forms for bold geometric planes. The nails that hold the work together are deliberately left exposed to lend it an industrial appearance that is meant to suggest "the side of a freighter" in transit.

Oil and collage on board - Private Collection


Untitled A

Untitled A reveals Marca-Relli's continued desire to move beyond the gestures and materials traditionally associated with painting. This assemblage of planar, cut-out aluminum shapes reveals the artist's tendency towards formal reduction and simplicity in his later years. His experiments with metal came from his need to work with more resilient material than the canvas he had relied upon for previous collage work. This material introduced a new ambiguity regarding the artwork's definition as painting or sculpture.

Aluminum, painted aluminum and screws - Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Conrad Marca-Relli Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 05 Dec 2013. Updated and modified regularly
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