Joseph A. Burlini
Chicago Sculptor and Artist
With a special place in the public sphere, creating pieces of both large-scale and intimate sculpture, Joseph A. Burlini’s artistic identity exists in tandem with the strong work ethic of Chicago. Thoughtfully clever in his execution and composition in relation to materials, Burlini’s work has also remained accessible over time.
From Industrial Design to Fine Art
Born in 1937, Burlini spent his youth in Morton Grove, Illinois. He studied industrial design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1956 to 1960. To start his professional life, Burlini worked at Sears Roebuck and Co. for six years designing toys, cameras, rifles, and other goods. In his spare time, Burlini began to experiment with drawing “Larger Than Life” celebrity portraits and welding sculptures from steel rods. In 1965, Burlini entered a sculpture in the Chicago and Vicinity show at the Art Institute of Chicago and won the John G. Curtis prize. Subsequently, Burlini told his new wife, Sue Ellen, that he planned to quit working in industrial design to become a full-time artist and she encouraged him to pursue his passion.
Constantly Evolving Sculpture
Throughout Burlini’s 50-plus years as an artist, his focus has evolved in multiple directions. During his gallery years, Burlini had a 15-year machine phase and later a Man in the Box period. Burlini also produced his Satin and Smoke polished bronze series and 24-carat gold Butterfly People. Perhaps most notably, Burlini had a 15-year stretch in which he created kinetic do-nothing machines composed of metal rods, wheels, wings, and rudders. The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago held an early retrospective of Burlini’s work in 1977 entitled Rockets to Rainbows.
Public Art, Awards, and a Lasting Legacy
In later years, Burlini has been commissioned to create bold public sculptures and innovative awards for various companies and organizations. His clients have included Walt Disney Studios, McDonald’s, Standard Oil, the U.S. Pentagon, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and many other Chicago-area institutions. From May 9 to June 14, 2019, the Koehnline Museum of Art at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Illinois held a major retrospective with examples of sculpture and artwork from each phase of Burlini’s distinguished career.
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