Alberto Burri was born in Città di Castello on 12 March 1915. After graduating in medicine, he was enlisted as a medical officer during the Second World War. In 1944, captured in North Africa, he was imprisoned in Hereford, Texas, where he began to paint on the available sackcloth. Freed in 1946, he moved to Rome, where he held his first solo exhibition at Galleria La Margherita the following year. Like many Italian artists of his generation, Burri criticised the widespread politicised realism of the late 1940s and moved towards abstraction, becoming a protagonist of the Informal movement.
In 1949-50 he experimented with new and unorthodox materials, creating tactile collages made of sacks, tar and pumice stone. In this period he produced the Moulds and Hunchbacks series, the latter with modelled canvases that break the traditional two-dimensionality of the support. His interest in the ambiguity of the pictorial surface and in unusual materials led Burri to contribute to the Gruppo Origine, which exhibited in 1951 at the Galleria dell'Obelisco, Rome. In 1953, he made his mark in the United States thanks to the group show organised by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 'Younger European Painters'. In the middle of the decade he began to burn materials in Combustioni, works in burnt wood and sacking, which he exhibited in 1957 at the Galleria dell'Obelisco, Rome. In 1958, he presented his works made by welding together iron sheets at the Galleria Blu in Milan and won the 3rd prize at the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. The following year he won the Aries Prize in Milan and the UNESCO Prize at the São Paulo Biennale.
In 1960, the Venice Biennale dedicated a room to him, which won the Critics' Prize. In the early 1960s, he continued with Combustioni, also beginning to burn plastic. In 1963 he had his first retrospective in the United States, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. In 1965 he was awarded the Grand Prize of the São Paulo Biennale. In 1972, the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris dedicated a retrospective to him. The 1970s saw him devote himself to the Cretti series with evocative paintings of sunburnt lands that play with the idea of trompe l'oeil. In 1977, the retrospective inaugurated at the University of California in Los Angeles was transferred to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York the following year. In 1979, the artist began to devote himself to another industrial material, cellotex, which he continued to use in the 1980s and 1990s. Burri died in Nice on 15 February 1995.