The Beauty of Alberto Burri – Burri Collection at Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco

Exploring Umbria:

I’m often asked where I get my rag rug inspiration from, but it’s really difficult to give a straight forward answer as it comes from lots of places… pottery in the V&A, architecture, old embroidery… you name it, I probably have an interest in it. Although design inspiration can come from anywhere, it seems more satisfying when you stumble across it randomly and when it hits you right in the face (poetic, I know).

Every year, I visit my godmother, Marilisa, who runs an agriturismo in the hills of Umbria. Borgo di Carpiano is truly heaven on Earth. Don’t believe me, check out these photos…

Borgo di Carpiano Umbria

Borgo di Carpiano.

Borgo di Carpiano Pool

Pool with a view…

And this is currently my view as I write this blog post…

Borgo di Carpiano view

Not a bad spot to write a blog post.

After years of visiting, this place is now my home from home – my tranquil summer getaway. Over the years, I’ve explored many of the surrounding Umbrian hilltop towns which are excellent for design inspiration, with their collections of Renaissance pottery, distinctive colour palettes and Italian charm. However, this year, I stumbled across an exhibition by the artist Alberto Burri that I thought was truly special and I wanted to share it with you all. So, who is Alberto Burri?

A bit about Alberto Burri:

Alberto Burri artist photographed by Nanda Lanfranco

Alberto Burri photographed by Nanda Lanfranco

Alberto Burri was born in 1915 in Città di Castello, a small town in Umbria, Italy. During World War II, Burri was a frontline soldier and later became a physician. When his unit was captured in 1943, he was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Texas, which is where Burri began his distinctive style of painting. It wasn’t until 1946 that Burri was repatriated to Italy and began pursuing art full-time in Rome.

Over the years, Burri garnered lots of critical aclaim and he is now considered to be one of Italy’s most famous post-war artists. In fact, Burri’s pieces can currently be found in M.O.M.A and the Guggenheim in New York, in the National Galleries of Modern Art in Rome and Paris, as well as the Tate Gallery in London. In his home town of Città de Castello, a former tobacco warehouse was acquired and converted into a huge gallery to show his pieces, with sculptures inside and outside. Burri was known for experimenting with unorthodox pigments and resins, as well as materials such as hessian bags and household linens. Other materials he worked with include stitched pieces of fabric, plastic, iron, wood and leather. Burri died in Nice in February, 1996.

The Alberto Burri Collection in Città di Castello:

As you enter Città di Castello, you might happen to notice a few large metal sculptures. These are your first glimpse into the world of Alberto Burri…

Alberto Burri large metal sculpture

One of Burri’s large sculptures as seen from the road.

Large Alberto Burri sculpture in Citta di Castello

The sculptures are pretty hard to miss.

Before this visit, I had looked around Città di Castello a few times, but never thought to question what these imposing sculptures were or why they were there. Well, now I know that they mark the entrance to “Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco”, the former tobacco factory, which holds the biggest and best collection of the Alberto Burri’s art.

The collection was too good not to share, so below are some of my photos from the exhibition. Incidentally, I think Burri’s work is particularly suited to rag rugging as he plays with colour and texture in the most interesting ways. Watch this space, as I feel a Burri-inspired rag rug coming on. So here it goes…

Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco:

Once you know where the Burri Collection is, it’s pretty hard not to miss it as it’s housed in a rather imposing former tobacco factory, which has been painted matt black. It’s hard to get a proper idea of the scale of the factory, but check out how small that man is in the entranceway…

Alberto Burri Exhibition, Città di Castello

The former tobacco factory (Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco) that houses much of the Burri Collection.

The exhibition kicks off with one of Burri’s less conventional pieces (and I have to admit, not one of my favourites), which is made out of melted plastic. Burri enjoyed experimenting with ripping, tearing and destroying different materials just to see what would happen, so this is a pretty good example of Burri playing around.

Alberto Burri Collection Melted Plastic

The first room in the Burri collection.

Burri Showcase Room:

The second gallery space is where things really start to get interesting as it contains pieces from many different eras and collections. Stepping into this room was my first proper glance at some of Burri’s large, colourful, geometric pieces that I’ve learned to like so much:

Room Two in the Alberto Burri Exhibition in Citta di Castello Italy

As you move through the space, the scale of the pieces seems to get larger and more striking. My mum, Victoria, gives an idea of the scale.

Alberto Burri Blocks of colour Italian Collection

I love how playful Burri was with colour.

Gold and Black Burri Artwork

One of the most striking pieces in the second room was this one.

Victoria at the Alberto Burri Collection at the Former Tobacco Factory

It’s difficult to get an idea of the scale without seeing the artworks in relation to people, but they are massive.

Il Viaggio, 1979 – Burri’s Colourful Phase:

The third room in the exhibition was one of my favourite spaces in the entire collection as it was chock-full of large, colourful, geometric pieces. We largely had the huge exhibition space to ourselves, which made it even more impactful.

fondazione burri ex seccatoi

Il Viaggio – Fondazione Burri ex Seccatoi collection.

These were some of my favourite pieces from this room…

fondazione burri ex seccatoi colourful artwork by Alberto Burri

This was probably one of Burri’s busiest pieces, but I really liked the colour combination of subtles with brights.

Alberto Burri artworks on the wall of the tobacco factory in Citta di Castello

These artworks show Burri’s playful side. They remind me slightly of Matisse’s cutouts.

Alberto Burri Hand Painting in blues, greens and blacks

This artwork reminds me of a pointing finger, but I’m sure it probably has some deeper meaning.

Alberto Burri green painting

This was my friend Deena’s favourite piece – she even bought a poster of it.

Alberto Burri Artwork Umbria

This was the subtlest artwork in the room, but I really liked the colour combination.

Burri Red, Orange and Yellow Artwork

This artwork was particularly striking as it was on the end wall of the room, so was one of the first pieces that your eye was drawn to when you walked in.

Rosso e Nero, 1984 – Burri’s Red and Black Phase:

The next room focussed on one of Burri’s later collections… “Ross e Nero”. By reducing his colour palette, Burri was able to focus on creating interesting shapes.

Italian Artist Alberto Burri Black and Red Room

Black, red and white don’t tend to be my favourite colours but I loved seeing how Burri played around with different shapes with such a limited number of colours.

Black, red and white Alberto Burri artwork in fondazione burri ex seccatoi

This artwork was my favourite piece in the “Red and Black” room.

Deena looking at the Alberto Burri Collection

Deena taking a good look at the artworks.

Red and white stripe Burri artwork in Italy

This piece reminded me of a flag for some reason.

Black and red pieces Alberto Burri Collection Umbria

It’s fascinating to see what can be achieved with so few colours to play with.

Cellotex, 1975 – 1984 – Burri’s Black and Tan Phase:

The next room we headed into was mostly made up of artworks in black and tan. Although it is difficult to see from the photos, there are lots of subtleties within the two colours, as they were created using a variety of different materials, including cork and varnished cork.

Black and cork Alberto Burri artworks

The black and tan room.

Alberto Burri black and cork coloured artwork

Black and tan artwork in the fifth room.

Cork Artworks Alberto Burri Collection in Umbria

Not only did I love the artworks themselves, but also the industrial nature of the space, which really showed off the art to best effect.

Annottarsi, 1985 – 1987 and Non Ama il Nero, 1988 – Burri’s Monochromatic Phases:

Burri was always pushing the boundaries of what could be done in art, which led to his superb monochromatic phases. I’m a lover of colour through and through but there was something so beautiful about how simple these pieces were and how well they worked together as a set.

Alberto Burri's Black Artworks

I never would have thought that black paintings could be so beautiful.

Black Burri Painting

I loved the shapes within this particular piece.

Shades of Black Burri paintings in Umbria

I loved how the different shades of black within the painting made it appear 3D.

Black room with art by artist Alberto Burri

I would never have thought to display black paintings on a black wall, but it was certainly atmospheric.

Shades of black painting Burri

This was one of my favourite artworks in the room.

Black paintings on display in Citta di Castello.

These were some of Burri’s most controversial paintings in the collection.

Metamorfotex, 1991 – The Largest Artwork in the Collection:

Pretty much all of Burri’s artworks are on a scale that very few artists would feel confident filling, but this particular piece was on an even larger scale (it spanned the width of the tobacco factory). I love the way that you can read it from left to right and it almost tells a story.

Large Burri Artwork

Although most of the pieces in the exhibition are large, this one was incredibly large and striking.

Il Nero e L’Oro, 1992 – 1993 – Burri’s Black and Gold Phase:

The next room had a series of black and gold pieces in, which once again highlighted the importance of shape and line. These were much less smooth and flowing than Burri’s earlier pieces, but were fascinating in helping us to understand what we like aesthetically in terms of balance.

Gold and black artworks Alberto Burri

Glitz and glamour.

Gold and black Burri artworks in tobacco factory Italy

The shapes within the gold and black pieces were much more jagged.

Elspeth Jackson in the Burri exhibition in Italy

Me at the exhibition posing in front of one of the few sculptures within the factory itself.

Burri’s Prints:

After going through the entire top floor of the Tobacco Factory, we realised that there was an equally large lower floor full of Burri’s prints and a media centre. Here are some of my highlights from the vast collection of prints…

Trittico D Print Burri Italy

Trittico D – I particularly liked the colours in this piece.

Colour gradiation Burri Print

Not very highbrow, but this reminded me of the hungry caterpillar for some strange reason, which made me happy.

Ice creams

I thought these particular artworks look superb together. I would quite happily display all three in my flat, and in fact bought a poster quite similar from the gift shop.

Italia 90 poster Alberto Burri

This poster was designed by Burri for the 1990 Football World Cup, which seems quite poignant given the time of year that I’m writing this post.

Colourful Burri Artwork Print

Sometimes it’s quite hard to put your finger on what it is that you like about a particular painting, but this one appealed to me for some reason.

Colourful Burri Artwork Print

This print was my mum’s favourite from the lower floor.

Black and white cut out Burri print

Some of Burri’s works were very simple, but thoughtful.

Prints Burri

These prints were much small than the huge artworks on the floor above.

Burri colourful artwork print

I liked the shapes within this artwork.

Right, so that was a very brief introduction to Italian artist, Alberto Burri. I hope you found the artworks interesting and keep your eyes peeled for future rugs based on his works 🙂

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Happy Rag Rugging!

Elspeth x

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