Alberto Burri Italian, 1915-1995

Born in 1915, Alberto Burri was a doctor before the war, a combat medic in Libya during it, and finally a prisoner in Texas, where he started painting. He denied links between the gaping wounds of his works and his medical experience; incontestable, though, is the connection between his scarred, scorched compositions and the war-ravaged wasteland of the Italy to which he returned in 1946, a place of economic and psychological collapse. Yet his violent processes redeemed it as beautiful, each work “perfect as form and as space” as he wanted. Burnt transparent plastic glistens like pools of water in Plastica; cracked acrovinyl on cellotex creates the lovely wandering labyrinth Cretto G 3. For Arte Povera and, more widely, process artists, Burri’s metabolising of tar, sacking, charred wood, iron, plastic — examples of each series are included here — was foundational. Twenty-five years after his death, he remains, as Fabio Mauri called him, “king of the wretchedness that makes up the world”