Alberto Burri (Italian, 1915–1995) was one of the most prominent Italian Abstract painters of the 20th century. Beginning his career as a doctor rather than an artist, Burri earned a medical degree at the University of Perugia in 1940, and then worked as a physician during World War II. He was imprisoned with his captured unit at a prisoner-of-war camp in Texas, where he painted on burlap. After his release in 1946, he moved to Rome to become an artist. Like many Italian artists working in the late 1940s, Burri turned away from the politicized realism popular at the time, and toward abstraction, becoming a proponent of Art Informel. He subsequently experimented with various unorthodox materials, producing textured collages with pumice, tar, and burlap in order to break with the traditional two-dimensional surface.
Beginning in the mid-1950s, Burri burned his media in a technique he called “combustion”; he also started to burn plastic works in the early 1960s. In the early 1970s, Burri began his “cracked” paintings series, creating works with creviced surfaces resembling chipped soil that explored the illusionistic properties of painting. In the late 1970s, Burri turned to another industrial material, Cellotex, and continued to use it in his work for the next few decades. Burri’s use of materials such as nails, burlap, or tar, and his breaking, burning, and assemblage techniques represented his early experiences at war, and his interpretation of Art Informel aesthetics. His work has been shown internationally in group exhibitions and at several shows at the Venice Biennale and documenta in Kassel. Several successful retrospectives of his work have been presented at institutions including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris. One year before his death in Nice, France in 1995, Alberto Burri received the Italian Order of Merit.