Alfonso Ossorio in his painting showed his predilection for the art brut (“raw art”) of the insane, criminals and children espoused by Jean Dubuffet who was a major influence on the artist from the age of thirty-three. For him, like many of his contemporaries, rational society, traditional art and existence failed to have meaning, which he sought in the darker avenues of the human spirit and the spontaneous, unpremeditated creations of innocence. Alfonso Ossorio was also influenced by his friend Jackson Pollock, as well as Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.
He was born in Manila on the island of Luzon in the Philippines on August 2, 1916. Alfonso Ossorio was the son of a wealthy sugar planter who was educated in England before moving to the United States at the age of fourteen. The artist studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and graduated from Harvard University. Alfonso Ossorio became an American citizen in 1939. The artist was briefly married in the early 1940′s. Later, this marriage was grotesquely portrayed in some of his surrealist works.
Alfonso Ossorio was strongly influenced by the work of Paul Cadmus and Jared French. His experiences while serving in the United States Army medical corps during World War II had a profound effect on the artist. This resulted in the understandably morbid imagery that would show up in his work after the war ended. Alfonso Ossorio’s style constantly evolved throughout his career. He went on to paint intricately rendered allegories that showed the influence of Albrecht Durer. In 1949, he became friends with Jackson Pollock who urged him to visit Jean Dubuffet in Paris. It is Jean Dubuffet whose presence is strongest in Alfonso Ossorio’s work. Alfonso Ossorio began a study of religious iconography, which figured in a mural for the Church of St. Joseph in the Philippines in 1950.
Alfonso Ossorio eventually moved from painting to sculptural assemblage or junk art, utilizing a wide variety of objects including toys, broken glass, skeletons and glass eyes. Alfonso Ossorio called this gathering of objects “congregations.” In 1951, the artist purchased an estate on Long Island where he redirected much of his artistic energy to the creation of a sculpture and botanical garden.
The work of Alfonso Ossorio is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York University and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Rose Art Museum, Waltham, Massachusetts; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.
Alfonso Ossorio died in 1990.
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
Art in America, July 1992
Mantle Fielding’s Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers
Biography from the Archives of AskART.