Tag Archives: Found Materials

Working With the Given: Alberto Burri, 1915-1995

The life work of Alberto Burri was born in an American POW camp in Gainesville, Texas, where he was interned after the capture of his unit by the Allied forces in Tunisia in 1944. Defeated and confined in a strange land Burri turned his hand to making art out of the common materials that were available to him. The discarded burlap potato sacks from the kitchen with their subtle variations of color, repetitive linear weave and texture, were a rich source of visual matter for him.  Returning to Italy after the war Burri continued fashioning compositions from burlap and other found materials. The revival of Italy’s post-war economy gave Burri a new palette of industrial materials to work with. Plaster, discarded metal, plastic sheeting and common building supplies presented to his imagination unique physical qualities from which he created works of astonishing beauty.

The impact of Burri’s work goes beyond the visual. It appeals to a sense of play that perhaps is more common in children with their innocence about the prescribed meaning of things. In Burri’s hands plastic, burlap, and scraps of wood and metal vie with the most sublime subjects of art. Like a crazy and inappropriate uncle who is not above making a broom become a horse for the delight of children, Burri charges extraordinarily ordinary utilitarian materials with an esthetic power that is completely contrary to their original intentions and purposes. That’s his great lesson and example to us all.

Read more:

Alberto Burri bio

Arte Povera


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Thoughts on the Process of Collage: Kevin Brady

“One day I came to work to find that part of a city block had been demolished. Hills of dirt were trucked away and plywood forms appeared. Foundations took shape, walls arose, and a new building began to emerge. Space, everyone’s space, was being reconfigured. The event of building reveals the essential plasticity of space: the way we divide it up, build structures into it, and sweep it clean again. Building and growth, demolition and decay are strangely commingled. Architecture, that most enduring of cultural forms, is reassigned to natural processes. You may try to expel nature with a pitchfork, said Horace, but it will come back running.


Like a building site, collage, for me, is exhilarating. It encourages swift, decisive modifications; it is constructive and destructive almost simultaneously. Structures come into being, and turn away from what they had been. Disparate spaces are sampled, juxtaposed, and reconfigured. Unlike working from plans, collage is open and improvisatory. It establishes a site for the reception of unforeseen changes. It invites and responds to the unplanned.

As an artist, I try to situate myself at the center of form- and meaning-complexes that seem most capable of producing these sorts of symbols: landscape, excavation, foundation, house, room, annex, well. A true symbol, C.G. Jung tells us, is inexhaustible; it is a living, regenerative thing. The generative activity of the studio is vital in this regard: the rhythmic, almost ritual process of collage, the surprise discoveries that occur when unlike pieces meet and mate. I seek a poetics of construction. I do so through an interplay of geometric structure and expressive abstraction, a syntax of interruption and relocation, and a language of color interaction and boundaries.

Like art itself, collage is a layered, cumulative thing, a site at which the boundary between cultural achievement and natural occurrence is sometimes, mysteriously, dissolved.”

Kevin Brady, 2006




What is given is incomparably richer than what we can invent.   

Aldous Huxley, “Variations on El Greco,” On Art and Artists

These fragments I have shored against my ruins.   

T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

“I like the deliberative processes of collage – the heightened awareness of elements in play, and surprises that occur when unlike pieces meet and mate. Like drawing, collage is a very direct form of visualizing onto a surface. It is not just a language of accumulation – of stuff added to stuff – but a restless exchange of figure and ground. Structures come into being, and turn away from what they had been. Boundaries are fixed and erode. Identities appear and shift shape. A collage can go through hundreds of adjustments before it arrives at its final state, and even then, it is – to quote Wallace Stevens – “form gulping after formlessness.” The destructive and constructive principles exist side by side in the most intimate kinds of decisions here. Found materials, for me, impose a discipline of responding to what is given. To some extent, I have to resist the impulse to design and control, even as this may be what is most needed. In the end, the collages are aimed at producing a symbolic, if provisional, unity.”

Kevin Brady, December 2007



Kevin Brady’s website.

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“To Confront a Crazy World With Its Own Image”

Found Texture: Collage, Frottage, and Assemblage

“To confront a crazy world with its own image…” From Marjorie Perloff’s essay, Dada Without Duchamp/Duchamp Without Dada

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