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Alberto Burri’s sculptural masterwork…


At a meeting of Gibellina City Council on the 25 of September 1979 it was resolved, following the advice of Mayor Ludovico Corrao, to issue an official invitation to Alberto Burri. The resolution read as follows: “The merit and  significance of your artistic message is considered to be human and poetically inspiring more than any other it is able to translate for the present generation and for future generations the tragedy, the  struggle, the hope and the faith in the land of the people of Gibellina”. They asked Burri to add one of his  works to the many artists’ contributions already scattered in the new town. As Burri did not react, the Mayor went to visit him at his home in Città di Castello and issued him a personal invitation to be a guest  at his home.

In a newspaper article of April 2006 calling for the completion of the monuments, known as the Cretto,  the now Senatore Ludovico Corrao recalls Burri’s first visit and the genesis of the Cretto as a  monument. A few days after the personal invitation was issued, Burri had relented and arrived in Sicily. He wanted to meet with the locals and was  taken through the elaborate, newly erected welcome gate, Stella, a sculpture by Pietro Consagra, into the  now mostly completed new city. Corrao does not elaborate on the visit to this location. We known that  Burri thought that “in this place for sure there is nothing for me to contribute as the place has plenty works  of art.” Alberto Zanmatti, the architect involved in the project, in his comment on this said that knowing  Burri, he would have never agreed to be one of many. At Burri’s request, Corrao took him to the site of  the destroyed old city. The sight of the devastation and ruins brought Burri close to tears, but Burri  remained silent. They continued and drove to Segesta to the ruins of an old Greek amphitheatre that Burri  wanted to photograph at dusk. There he told Corrao, “I have the project in mind” but did not elaborate.

The archaeology of the future.

Later that evening Burri told Corrao that while they were walking in Segesta and he saw how the shadows on the steps of the amphitheatre changed the appearance of the architecture from one minute to the other, giving it both life and immortality, he decided to create a large Cretto over the ruins of the destroyed city. “Above all” he said, “strength like history had to emerge from the comparison of the great civilizations of Segesta, Selinunte, Motia and the ruined world of the poor and the dead.” He defined his work as “the archaeology of the future” which would be a testimony to the continued presence of great civilizations in this land.

A Cretto resembles a dried up clay lake bed. Burri started incorporating craked surfaces into his work with other materials as early as 1951, turning the Cretto into a painting in the 70s. On the genesis of the Cretto, Burri says: “when I was in California, I often visited Death Valley. The idea came from there, but then in the painting it became something else. I only wanted to demonstrate the energy of the surface.”  The Cretto design had also been used by Burri in sculptures. In 1976 and 77 he created two ceramic sculpture walls (5 x  15m), one for the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden in UCLA, Los Angles, and the other is located at the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. Another sculpture based on the Cretto design is a metal Grande Ferro of 1980 (5.18 x 0.61m) located in Palazzo Albizzini, Collezione Burri, in Città di Castello.

Burri produced his Cretto paintings in collaboration with the forces of nature, in this case, a chemical reaction that causes the surface of the material, when it dries up, to crack. It is a process of destruction/construction that also involves time. The eventual destruction of the surface becomes the construction of the work. The material he used to produce the Cretto was a mixture of wet kaolin, resin, pigment and polyvinyl acetate that was applied as a smooth layer on to a horizontal surface. By changing the composition of the chemicals, the concentration of the catalysts and the depth of the layers the artist was able to control the density of the cracking, but not the exact location of the cracks.

The enormity of the Gibellina project did not become apparent until 1981 when Burri presented the city with a model of the monument. In the model, Burri had recreated in plastic, an aerial view of the topography of Old Gibellina and its surroundings on which he had superimposed a Cretto that covered the side of the destroyed old city. The footprint of Old Gibellina’s main street and one other thoroughfare were incised into the work, while the rest of the Cretto cracks has been allowed to form spontaneously.

Alberto Burri and “The International Land Art Panorama”.

In his speech at a convention titled: Alberto Burri; nel Panorama della Land Art  Internazionale, help in Gibellina in October 1998, Zanmatti, the architect of the  project and a friend of Burri, said, that Burri, whose original profession was a Doctor, had arrived in Gibellina with the spirit of Asclepius, the Greek God of Medicine. As one who had taken the Hippocratic oath, Burri could not refuse a call for help, but had managed to wriggle his way out of contributing to the many works that had already been constructed in the new city, and came up with the idea of the Cretto. It was a  project so immense that even the Pharaohs would have been bewildered by it. Zanmatti was  faced with unstable ruins, a type of construction never attempted before, no funds, no materials  and no organized labour force. It looks two years to raise sufficient funds, mostly donated by  Italians and material donated by a cement factory in Palermo, for the experimental construction of the first irregular shaped block. At the same time a controversy was stirred by those who wanted the ruins left untouched. In an area filled with ruins of previous civilizations that are greatly admired and income-producing, it was a strong argument. Countering this argument, mayor Corrao likened the ruins to a corpse of a beloved that was left to rot, “It is unconceivable to allow the debris of the old city to rot as a testimony to death.” The need “to obliterate the ruins in order to commemorate them” was accepted.

Each section of the Cretto, averaging 700 sq.m, had to be surrounded by reinforced concrete, with the rubble piled and compacted into it to a height of 1.6 m. and the whole covered by a layer of white cement. The gaps between the sections, the walkways, were paved in white cement; these gaps form gullies of varying width from 1.5m to 4m. The army was called in to assist with the clearing of the ruins. All the debris and everything found on site in the ruined buildings, included clothing, dolls, wine and olive oil bottles, farming implements and household items, were piled and buried in the confined perimeter of each section.

Fondazione Orestiadi, the new beginning.

Further funds were raised through a public lottery, the white cement continued to be donated and work on the project commenced in August 1985. Lack of funds stopped the work in December 1989. In 1997 a petition calling for the completion of the work was signed by prominent Italians, from art historian to politicians, authors and academics. This petition succeeded in raising further fund from institutions and another nine acres were added to the monument. As is evident from Senatore Corrao’s call in 2006 for the completion of the monument, it has yet to be completed. Now that the ravages of time and weather are evident, its fate is somewhat reminiscent of that Gaudi’s Sacred Family Church in Barcelona. The monument is no longer the pristine white it was, moss, weeds and trees have invaded it, the surrounding weeds are as tall as the sections themselves, and it is in need not only of completion but of restoration, a task Corrao, who now heads Fondazione Orestiadi, a Regional Art Institution, is still engaged in.

For the casual visitor guided to the place by the sign Gibellina Ruderi (Gibellina ruins), after expressing astonishment at this huge apparition of cracked off white cement in the middle of a rural setting, questions of – What is it? Why is it here? – come to mind. It is useless to look for an explanatory sign, as there is none there. There are a few signs honoring the latest financial donor that mention the earthquake, but these are incorporated into the cement walls and are hard to find. However a feeling that an event, that connects the structure to the site, had occurred there, soon creeps in.  The question of what the event was is answered by the few ruined structures that are still  standing, by the upturned land, and the abruptly ending roads that abound in the area and the  separation from the cultivated land. The scale of the event is transmitted, when wandering  through the cracks does not transmit a sensation of desperation such as being lost, on the  contrary, it transmits a sensation of adventure, as at no time, despite the silence within the structure, in the cultivated land surrounding it is obscured; it remains visible between the cracks and over the top of the structure, and completes the integration of the monument with the living landscape that surrounds it.



interview with director Alex Roman…


Some philosophies of aesthetics enumerate seven primary art forms derived from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s “Lectures on the Aesthetics” and the writings of film theorist Ricciotto Canudo: architecture, sculpture, painting, dance, music, poetry, and cinema.

The order is disputed, and architecture is sometimes shuffled to the third position, as it was by aspiring filmmaker Alex Roman for the title of his breathtaking work in progress, The Third & The Seventh, an artful combination of photorealistic architectural renderings and stylish CG cinematography.

In Roman’s able hands, the combination is undeniably poetic. His reverence for light borders on transcendent, and his attention to detail is inspiring. We caught up with Alex for a little background information.

Justin Cone: Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you? Where are you from? What do you currently do?

Alex Roman: I was born in 1979, in Alacant (Alicante), a city in Spain. I would first like to say that my real name is Jorge Seva, but I use “Alex Roman” as an artistic alias for publishing independent work. After being trained in traditional painting at a few academies, I discovered this other world called CG. After school, I made the move to Madrid and began working at a visual effects company. That stint did not last too long due to the lack of demand for visual effects in the Spanish market at the time. It was then that I switched into the VIZ (architectural visualization) business. I have been working for several companies since. After that, I took a sabbatical year for to work on an “already-built work” visualization series, which will be stitched together into a short animated piece.

JC: Were you formally trained in architecture?

AR: Nope, never. But I was very interested in architecture since I was a child. Maybe it’s not too late.

JC: Can you tell us a little about the TheThird & The Seventh film?

AR: Well, after working in VIZ for years, I realized that there was a huge aesthetic difference between most clients’ commercial demands and photography of already-built structures. The lack of respect for the architecture itself in some “pure” commercial illustration was very frustrating to me. (Well, this is just my opinion, of course.) Then, I decided to start a personal journey: to experiment with a more cinematographic and/or photographic oriented point of view of some of my favorites architects’ masterpieces. Hence, the “The Third & The Seventh” project…

JC: After thumbing through a book of Frank Lloyd Wright’s sketches once, I chatted with an architect friend of mine about the art of architectural rendering. He told me that sometimes architects intentionally leave sketches vague or messy. It not only creates wiggle room when it comes to client negotiations, it leaves room for the imagination to paint in details. How would you respond to that idea?

AR: Well, there are of course several purposes behind computer graphics benefits. That “messy” representation style is very useful at a birth-idea/growing-process stages. Also, there are of course many architects that use CG as a sketching oriented tool… why not?

JC: Your sensitivity to light is amazing. How would you describe the interplay between light and architecture?

AR: Thanks! I think architecture is sculpting with light most of the time. There’s neither volume nor colors and materials without light and shadow. Like Kahn said once: “In the old buildings, the columns were an expression of light. Light, no light, light, no light, light, you see…”

JC: The level of realism in the The Third & The Seventh is stunning. Your render times must be incredible. What software and hardware do you use? How long is an average render?

AR: I use 3DS Max and Vray for rendering, Photoshop for texture work, AfterEffects for compositing and color grading and Adobe Premiere for edit it all. My desktop PC (i7 920) it’s now the only hardware i have. Every frame rendertime may vary from 20 sec to 1:30 hr (720p) It all depends on how complex the scene is. However, i invested a lot of time in scene optimization for rendering. I think it’s the key for a flexible workflow.

JC: How can we see the full The Third & The Seventh film?

AR: I’m finishing the latest shots, fighting with the music—the hardest stage for me—and editing at the moment. We will see it complete around the end of the summer of 2009. I really hope so!


“THE THIRD AND THE SEVENTH” 2009 directed by Alex Roman


secret talents revealed…


Until now, Michael Jackson’s art collection was shrouded in mystery. It was said to be stuck in a legal dispute over possession. Then, people speculated that buyers such as Cirque du Soleil’s Guy Laliberté were interested. It’s been valued at the staggering (and slightly unbelievable) sum of $900 million.

One crucial fact: Jackson’s art collection isn’t art by other people — it’s mainly drawings and paintings that he created himself. So what does that art look like?

Yesterday, LA Weekly was the first to visit the (until now) top-secret Santa Monica Airport hangar that Jackson used as his studio and art storehouse. The collection is currently owned by Brett-Livingstone Strong, the Australian monument builder and Jackson’s art mentor through the years, in conjunction with the Jackson estate.

Though the entire art collection has been mired in disputes and battles for rights, Strong claims that he is working with everybody — the family, the estate, as well as others — to exhibit and publish as much of Jackson’s work as possible.

According to Strong, he and Jackson formed an incorporated business partnership in 1989, known as the Jackson-Strong alliance. This gave each partner a fifty-percent stake in the other’s art. In 2008, Strong says, Jackson requested that his attorney sign the rights to Jackson’s portion of the art over to Strong. Now, Strong is beginning to reveal more and more of the art as he goes ahead with Jackson’s dream of organizing a museum exhibit.

Strong gave us a tour of the hangar, beginning with the Michael Jackson monument that Strong and Jackson co-designed several years ago. It’s perhaps bombastic, but designed with good intentions and the rabid Jackson fan in mind. Strong explains, “He wanted his fans to be able to get married at a monument that would have all of his music [in an archive, and playing on speakers], to inspire some of his fans.”

the studio...

The current design is still in the works, but it’s conceived as an interactive monument — fans who buy a print by Jackson will receive a card in the mail. They can scan this card at the monument, and then have a computer organize a personal greeting for them, or allow them to book it for weddings. Jackson initially thought it would be perfect for Las Vegas, but Strong says that Los Angeles might have the honor of hosting it — apparently, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently paid a visit and made a few oblique promises.

As for Jackson’s art, the contents of the hangar barely scratched the surface of the collection, as Strong estimates Jackson’s total output at 150 to 160 pieces. A few large pieces hanging on the walls had been donated as reproductions to the L.A. Children’s Hospital last Monday, along with other sketches and poems.

In all of his art, certain motifs kept cropping up: chairs (usually quite baroque), gates, keys and the number 7. His portrait of Bubbles, his pet chimpanzee, shows a monkey-like face vanishing into a cushy, ornate lounge chair. “He loved chairs,” says Strong. “He thought chairs were the thrones of most men, women and children, where they made their decisions for their daily activity. He was inspired by chairs. Rather than just do a portrait of the monkey, he put it in the chair. And you see, there are a few sevens — because he’s the seventh child.”

Jackson, who was a technically talented artist — and completely self-taught — fixated on these motifs, elevating everyday objects into cult symbols. Strong added that Jackson’s sketchbooks are completely filled with studies of his favorite objects, in endless permutations.

But Jackson also created portraits: a small sketch of Paul McCartney, and a large drawing of George Washington, created as Strong was working with the White House to commemorate the bicentennial of the Constitution back in 1987. He also sketched self-portraits — one as a humorous four-panel drawing charting his growing-up process, and a darker one that depicts him as a child cowering in a corner, inscribed with a sentence reflecting on his fragility.

one of an unfinished series of the U.S. presidents...

As an artist, Jackson preferred using wax pencils, though Strong adds, “He did do a lot of watercolors but he gave them away. He was a little intimidated by mixing colors.” Some surviving pencils are archived in the hangar; Strong moves over to a cabinet on the far wall of the hangar and pulls out a ziploc bag containing a blue wax pencil, a white feathered quill and a white glove that Jackson used for drawing.

Jackson turned to art as times got hard for him. “His interest in art, in drawing it, was just another level of his creativity that went on over a long period of time,” Strong says. “It was quite private to him. I think he retreated into it when he was being attacked by those accusations against him.” The sketches and drawings certainly reveal an extremely sensitive creator, though it’s clear that Jackson also had a sense of humor.

Jackson’s art was kept under wraps for such a long time simply because of the pedophilia scandal, which erupted right around the time that he was looking for a way to publicize the works. “A lot of his art was going to be exhibited 18 years ago. Here’s one of his tour books, where he talks about exhibiting art. He didn’t want it to be a secret,” Strong says, pointing at a leaflet from the 1992 Dangerous World Tour.

Prior to that period, Jackson and Strong had met and become fast friends. This marked the beginning of Strong’s mentorship, in which he encouraged Jackson to create bigger paintings and drawings, and exhibit his work. The idea behind their Jackson-Strong Alliance was that Strong would help Jackson manage and exhibit his art. Notably, the alliance birthed Strong’s infamous $2 million portrait of Michael Jackson entitled The Book, the only known portrait Jackson ever sat for.

In 1993, everything blew up. At the time, Jackson and Strong were both on the board of Big Brothers of Los Angeles (now known as Big Brothers Big Sisters), a chapter of the national youth mentoring organization established in L.A. by Walt Disney and Meredith Willson. They had planned out a fundraising campaign involving Jackson’s art. Strong explains, “We thought that if we would market [his art] in limited edition prints to his fans, he could support the charities that he wanted to, rather than have everybody think that he was so wealthy he could afford to finance everybody.” When the pedophilia scandal erupted, Disney put a freeze on the project. The artwork stayed put, packed away from public eyes in storage crates.

As for the spectacular appraisal of $900 million for Jackson’s art collection, Strong says that it derives from the idea of reproducing prints as well. The figure was originally quoted by Eric Finzi, of Belgo Fine Art Appraisers. “The reason somebody came out with that was because there was an appraisal on if all of his originals were reproduced — he wanted to do limited editions of 777 — and he would sell them to his fan base in order to build his monument, support kids and do other things. You multiply that by 150 originals, and if they sold for a few thousand dollars each, then you would end up with 900 million dollars.” Fair enough, though now Strong says he has gone to an appraiser in Chicago to get that value double-checked, and they arrived at an even higher estimate.

The story of Jackson’s art ends up being quite a simple one, though confused by so much hearsay and rumor. Strong and the Jackson estate will slowly reveal more works as time passes, and an exhibit is tentatively planned for L.A.’s City Hall. Negotiations with museums for a posthumous Jackson retrospective are still underway, but Strong has high hopes. He’s even talking of building a Michael Jackson museum that would house all of Jackson’s artwork.

We’ll leave you with Strong’s own description of Jackson at work, during the time where they shared a studio in a house in Pacific Palisades:

He was in a very light and happy mood most of the time. He would have the oldies on, and sometimes he’d hear some of his Jackson Five songs. He’d kind of move along to that, but most of the time he would change it and listen to a variety of songs. He liked classical music. His inspiration to create was that he loved life, and wanted to express his love of life in some of these simple compositions.

I came to the studio one day, and we had a Malamute. I came into the house, and I heard this dog barking and thought, Wow, I wonder what that is. I go into the kitchen, and I couldn’t help but laugh when I see Michael up in the pots and pans in the middle of the center island. He’s holding a pen and paper and the dog is running around the island and barking at him, and he says, “He wants to play! He wants to play!” He’s laughing, and I’m laughing about it as I’m thinking to myself, “I’m wondering how long he’s been up there.”

Michael Jackson’s dedication to art: so strong that he’ll end up perched on a kitchen island.

(LA WEEKLY  8.17.11)


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