'I have no need for words when I try to express my ideas about painting. Because my painting is an irreduceable presence which refuses to be converted into any other form of expression' (Alberto Burri speaking in 1955 cited in G. Serafini, Burri: The Measure and the Phenomenon, Milan 1999, p. 114)
Painted in 1973, Nero cretto presents the viewer with a vast tableau that resembles a parched landscape. Alberto Burri's Cretti are among the most important and best-loved works in the hugely-influential artist's oeuvre. Together they form an important series of paintings that the artist began relatively late in his career in 1973. Nero cretto is a large and important example from this series made in 1973 and was one of a series of ten monumental paintings chosen by the artist to represent his work at the Sala di Frate Elia in the Sacro Coventi di San Francesco in Assisi in 1975.
In Nero cretto, the focus on the surface and its substantiality is emphasised by the arena, shaped like a figure-of-eight on its side, that dominates the composition, where the craquelure is subtler than in its surrounding area. This form, which recalls both the symbol for infinity and the spiraling strands of the DNA double-helix, perhaps invoking some sense of the universal, fundamental building blocks of life encapsulated in the surface, creates a visible contrast within the surface of the painting that emphases the innovative appearance of the deliberately-cracked areas. These fissures drive the work, bringing our attention to the sensual qualities of this dried paint. Burri had often explored the use of crackled paint in his work ever since the 1940s, but it was only in the Cretti that the surface cracking became, seemingly, the sole creative force at work within the painting.
As in all of Burris work, the degree of disruption, destruction, alteration and/or change, was measured and controlled closely by Burri himself. The size of the cracks in the surface of Burri's Cretti is affected by the dilution of the acrylic paint mixture that he formed and by the thickness of its application and also by the experience of the artists touch. The vehicle that drives the formation of the work is the medium itself which on drying makes the impasto crack. The actual cracking pattern depends on both chance, the artists sensibility while making the application and on his decision about when to complete this independent process of change. When the cracking process develops the appearance that Burri was happy with and wanted to keep, it would be suspended and sealed by the application of a vinavil glue. The result is therefore a partnership between the artist and the inherently different and changing nature of his material, between the artist and life.
In this sense, Burri's Cretti mark a return to painting for the artist, and also represent a culmination of his life-long aesthetic in that they are simple, bold and memorable pictorial statements crafted into their resultant form by the artist but reflecting only the inherent nature of the material from which they are made. Although Burri has been widely seen as one of the most radical interpreters of Art Informel and as a material painter whose work explores the inherent nature of the raw and often poor materials he has used, the intrinsic material nature of his media was always, for him, only ever a means to an end. Maurizio Calvesi recalled in 1975 that in all the years that he had known Burri, (since 1958), the artist had maintained that the value of the materials in his work consistently remained secondary to the pictorial result. I have chosen poor materials in order to demonstrate that they can still be useful, Burri once said, but, the poverty of the material is not a symbol; it is a pretext for painting... I have never had an obsessive relationship, as some have said, with the materials I have worked with over the years. What I've sought to draw out of them is only their property... I wanted ... to explain what (the material) was capable of (Alberto Burri cited in Ibid., pp. 124 and181).
Burri's Sacchi Plastica, Legni, Ferri and Combustioni are therefore all united in the way in which the very different material properties of the components from which they are made have been articulated by the artist into a pictorial statement born of but ultimately independent from this material essence. Asserting a state that as one critic famously put it did not "feign reality but was rather itself a reality that feigned being a painting, Burris art conveys a powerful and undeniable existential presence.
And it is in this way that the Cretti represent the culmination of the progression of Burris art by marking his return to painting. Made out of paint, they nevertheless incorporate the language and aesthetic that had informed Burris earlier material paintings such as the Sacchi or the Legni for example. Intrinsic to these works was the notion of destruction as part of the constructive, creative process. Elements of time, damage and decay were all an essential part of these works and of the way in which Burri attempted to express the inner nature of the materials concerned.
In the same way, in Nero cretto it is the inner, material nature of paint itself that is expressed through the self-made cracks that Burri encouraged and controlled. Burri was inspired to create the Cretti after witnessing similar cracks caused by the sun on the desert on a visit to the United States. When I was in California, I often went to visit Death Valley, he said, The idea came from there, but then in the painting it became something else. I only wanted to demonstrate the energy of a surface (Alberto Burri cited in Ibid., p. 209)