Many artists have been resurrected and subjected to revision and or derision in order to further some academic theory or pet project. Fortunately, Alberto Burri, one of my favorite artists hasn't suffered too greatly at the hands of the culture machine. I'm thankful that for the most part they have left him alone and his significance intact. Fortunately, Postmodernist and Post Conceptualist concerns have been so distracted by their own importance that they have left Burri's legacy intact. We are free today to see his work in a clear light from a distance for what it really is, unlike other artists who have suffered theoretical erosion.
Below is a short video of Burri getting up close and personal with the "Celotex" plastic that he loved to melt and burn into beautiful compositions.
Burri was a master of materials and scale and whether the piece was a few centimeters wide or meters square he was a genius at making the material stand as if it had self materialized and been there forever. His sensitivity to composition and use of materials put Burri in a league of his own and actually make him the forerunner to Abstract Expressionism in the USA and Arte Povera in Europe which came later. There is no doubt in my mind that his inclusion in the 1953-54 New York exhibition, "Younger European Painters: A Selection At The Guggenheim," at the Guggenheim museum had a direct effect on the nascent US abstract art movement. When i look at the work of De Kooning, Clifford Still, Arshile Gorky, Louise Bourgeois and Lee Bontecou i see Burri in their pictorial strategies and i think this isn't incidental. His 1963 retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston Texas and a traveling retrospective in 1978 at the Solomon R Guggenheim museum also would have made a big impact influencing peers and the younger generation. I believe his original approach to constructing surfaces was recognized and mimicked in two generations of American and European artists establishing him as an enduring force in the legacy of 20th and 21st century art.
Below is a short video of a Burri exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art.
Burri wasn't working in a vacuum and would've been exposed to some of these international developments as he travelled regularly between the USA, France and Italy where he would've seen the latest contemporary trends in art. Whether stitching burlap sacking together then adhering it to surfaces, burning and shaping melted plastic materials with a blow torch or using ceramic materials to coat surfaces that later cracked from drying, creating crazed visual patterns, Burri was focused on the "human" experience of material textures and surfaces. This is in sharp contrast to the mystical tryst with the "void" that his famous fellow Italian Lucio Fontana was promulgating with his "slashed" and "punctured" canvases.
Alberto Burri is an inspiration to me for pursuing his "thing" whether with "natural" or "synthetic" materials. His approach to image making shakes up the traditional notion of what a "picture" is or is supposed to be. He constructs complex surfaces with the seeming ease of fluid paint, a maestro at extracting amazing beauty from base natural and industrial materials. Somehow his art seems to bridge the ages, a marriage of both Earthly and Heavenly concerns and maybe this is what we feel, the creative rigor of Burri's classical sensibility imbued in the work suspending us between the real and imagined for all time!