Abstract Critical

Alberto Burri: Form and Matter


The current exhibition at the Estorick Collection in North London is the first solo show of the work of Alberto Burri in Britain for many years. The above film contains a lot of fascinating information on the Estorick Collection and on the works and career of Burri. Amongst this Roberta Cremoncini, the Estorick’s Director, rejects the many and varied layers of interpretation which have built up around Burri’s work. Instead they are ‘interesting for what they are… beautiful images’. ‘Images’, as, despite the varied materials Burri used  to build up his surfaces, Cremoncini maintains he always remained a painter.

Burri’s work has already been discussed on the site by John Bunker and in the comments under Robin Greenwood’s ‘What Paint Does’. The Burri film seems an excellent opportunity to return to those arguments and explore the various tensions in Burri’s work. Tensions between material and image, between image and symbol and between the creation and rejection of the illusion of space.

Sam Cornish

  1. Luke Elwes said…

    When you look at Burri’s work in the flesh (and specifically the work from the 1950s to the 1970s), you are above all struck by its embodied materiality. Up close you can see how the material (even without its suggestive associations) is stretched, stitched, and grafted onto the body of the picture. It is not the formal relationships within the picture which hold your gaze; apart perhaps from the Tate picture (‘Sacking and Red’, 1954), the spatial composition, the arrangement of form and colour, is fairly rudimentary and is secondary to the surface itself, its textures, patinas and abrasions.
    These facets are largely lost in reproduction, through which the image may indeed appear ‘undemonstrative and inherently uninteresting’. I would suggest however that, on encountering their physical presence in this show, it is difficult not to regard these tactile surfaces as skin (wounded, punctured and cracked), even if the artist himself denied such a correlation. In this they share much in common with the rough corporeal matter of Tapies’ work (even if his was evidently more symbolically loaded than Burri’s) during the same period.