Alberto Burri (1915-1995)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Alberto Burri (1915-1995)


Alberto Burri (1915-1995)
signed, dedicated and dated 'Buon Natale e buon anno BURRI Roma 60' (on the reverse)
plastic, oil and combustion on canvas
2 7/8 x 5 ¼in. (7.3 x 13.2cm.)
Executed in 1960
Private Collection, Milan.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Marca-Relli l'amico americano; sintonie e dissonanze con Afro e Burri, exh. cat., Galleria d'Arte Niccoli, Parma 2002 (illustrated in colour, p. 282).
Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini (ed.), Alberto Burri. General Catalogue, Città di Castello 2015, vol. II, no. 913 (illustrated in colour, p. 111); vol. VI, no. i6041 (illustrated in colour, p. 139).
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Barbara Guidotti
Barbara Guidotti

Lot Essay

‘For a long time I have wanted to explore how fire consumes, to understand the nature of combustion, and how everything lives and dies in combustion to form a perfect unity’.
Alberto Burri

‘There is an element in Burri’s fire paintings that reaches backward to primordial feelings and speaks to every person’s experience of watching fires and of knowing the danger and pain in burning’.
Gerald Nordland

Appearing like a scorching segment of a molten landscape, Combustione epitomises, on a miniature and highly intimate scale, the artist’s radical embrace of unorthodox artistic materials and processes. Using fire as his brush and plastic as his ground, Burri has created a powerful composition that is at once wholly abstract but at the same time imbued with all the sweeping drama and grandeur of a Baroque painting. With its richly visceral, searing red and velvety black surface, riven by craters, accretions and indentations left from the fiery inferno that bore its creation, this work is a sensual celebration of its material parts, an exaltation of the humblest of materials and most elemental of processes.

Fire, an element traditionally associated with destruction rather than artistic creation, had first entered Burri’s practice in mid-1950s. Unleashing the fearsome power of this force first on paper, then burlap, wood and metal, Burri subsequently moved to plastic, first experimenting with this ubiquitous modern material in 1957, three years before he created the present work. In harnessing fire as a means of artistic creation, Burri once again made a significant leap in pushing the boundaries of artmaking, conceiving of an entirely new mode of painting. Taking a sheet of plastic, Burri entered into an intimate dialogue with the material. Wielding a blowtorch, he sculpted, manipulated and shaped the plastic as it melted and charred, constantly in control and relishing the effects the fire made as the material succumbed to the heat wrought upon it. ‘Nothing is left to chance’, he described of his practice of burning. ‘What I do here is the most controlled and controllable type of painting… You need to control the material and this is achieved by mastering the technique’ (Burri, quoted in E. Braun, Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting, exh. cat., New York & Dusseldorf, 2015-2016, p. 211).

Burri’s practice of creating miniature versions of his series had begun in 1953 when he sent his friend, the then Guggenheim director, James Johnson Sweeney, a small-scale work as a Christmas and New Year present. The present Combustione was similarly given to the first owner as a holiday gift in 1960. With these small size versions of his various series, Burri was able to distil the central features of each group into a perfect, miniature format. As a result, each aesthetic detail becomes magnified and exaggerated as Burri manipulated his materials with perfect control; in the present work, for example, the shining surface of the plastic, its fiery ruptures and lacerations, and the dialogue between red and black are all heightened, the surface made all the more dramatic thanks to its small scale.

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