He discovered art in ’49, while he was imprisoned in the Hereford camp
Painting, an Irreducible Presence is the beautiful title of the exhibition dedicated to Alberto Burri (1915-1995) that will take place in the rooms of the Giorgio Cini Foundation, on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, from May 10 to July 28. The exhibition is curated by Bruno Corà, the president of the foundation, and will retrace all the stages of the Umbrian artist’s career through meaningful exemplary works. Burri’s works have found their ideal exhibition locations in the Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco (former tobacco drying warehouses) in Città di Castello, and in Palazzo Albizzini, in the Foundation that has been named after him.
FROM THE REJECTION OF THE MEDICAL
PROFESSION TO THE CREATIVE DISCOVERY
OF SACKS, OLD PIECES OF WOOD AND PLATES
Burri’s first jute sack, which dates back to 1949, has been identified as the first instance of his symbolic use of matter as a repository of memories and meanings. This piece of cloth comes from the US detention camp of Hereford, Texas, where Burri – then an “irreducible” medical officer – was sent by the English army after being caught in Tunis during WW2. It is here that the creative parabola that led Burri to revolutionise the world of art with the unsettling beauty of old sacks, scorched pieces of wood and metal sheets begun. After refusing to practice medicine for a kind of people he despised (“in war, and especially in captivity, you learn to know men, and those men made me feel sick”), in the enclosure no. 4, in which he had been imprisoned, Burri changed his purpose in life and became a painter. Giuseppe Berto, the writer who was imprisoned with him and became a dear friend of his, describes Burri as “an earthy man… anchored to the land like a real Etruscan peasant”, a man “in disagreement with the whole of humanity”. We know him as a shy person, a man of few words, and one who does not believe that criticism can describe artistic creation fully. Instead, he loves poetry and literature, and traces his work back to Sappho, the Greek poets, Dante and Ungaretti.
PAINTING IS AN IRREDUCIBLE PRESENCE
IN HIS WORK, WHICH EXPERIMENTS
WITH DIFFERENT RECYCLABLE MATERIALS
Born as a space of freedom when he was in prison, painting is an irreducible presence in Burri’s work, notwithstanding the fact that he works with different materials, tearing, ripping, sewing, burning and cauterizing them, and that his research constantly challenges materials and techniques. The artist creates his works in series: Catrami (“Tars”, 1948, mixes of oil, tar, sand and vinyl glue); Muffe (“Molds”); Sacchi (“Sacks”, 1950s, ripped and sewed pieces of jute sacks); Combustioni (“Combustions”, 1953); Legni (“Woods”, 1955); Ferri (“Irons”, 1959); Plastiche (“Plastics”, 1960); Cretti (“Cracks”, 1970) and Cellotex (“Fireboard”). The artist uses all these materials so to attach brand new aesthetic meanings to them. His artistic practice is disengaged from the subject and figuration, and the choice of the means of expression depends on colour and texture. “Materials do not matter”, the artist says. Pieces of wood, plastic and metal are used as colours, seams, joints, burns, even as brushes, because, as Burri himself highlights – coming out of his usual silence – in the work of art “our stability is but balance, and our wisdom lies in masterful administration of the unforeseen”.