Rafael Alberti´s first vocation was painting, which arose already in his childhood, when he painted the ships which arrived in El Puerto de Santa María. However, the real discovery of his dedication towards painting occurred in 1917, when he moved to Madrid for family reasons, and entered the Prado Museum for the first time. Years later, during his exile in Argentina, he paid homage to this museum in one of his greatest works: A la pintura (To Painting), which he dedicated Picasso. In this work, he not only shows his passion for painting and for one of the most beautiful museums in the world, but also his knowledge of the schools of painting, the techniques, methods and the style of each painter.
His first exposition takes place in 1920, in the art gallery “Salón Nacional de Otoño” in Madrid, where his pictures are exhibited together with those of Vázquez Díaz. Two years later, he has another exposition in the “Ateneo” of Madrid. His avant-garde painting – which more than one critique remined of Kadinsky – will not be his definite dedication, as, after his father´s death, he began to write his first verses.
Without abandoning completely his pictoral vocation, his life opens to what will be the centre of his inspiration: the poetry. He combines the two arts in his creation of the “liricografías” (Lyricographs), in which he unites visual symbols and words (diérame ahora la locura / que en aquel tiempo me tenía, / para pintar la pintura con el pincel de la poesía – I want the madness hat I once had, to paint paintings with the brush of poetry). Behind the poet we always find the painter, and vice versa. As he said once, before writing, he needed to draw it in his imagination. His poetry is visual filled with light, while his painting is imbued with all the lyricism of his verses, containing the rhythm of his metrical creations. Picasso presented him a drawing and wrote in the dedication: “From the poet Pablo Picasso to the painter Rafael Alberti”.
Rythmic Frieze of Only One Verse (Madrid, 1923)
Frieze with dancers (Madrid, 1920)
He never abandoned his work as a painter, although it became more important to him in later years, when he was in Italy. Thus, during his exile in Argentina, he worked at paintings and Lyricographs for expositions in the art galleries “Arte Bella” in Montevideo in 1947, “Via V” and “Bonino” in Buenos Aires. In 1954, again in the capital of Argentina, he will participate in another exhibition in “Galería Galatea”. In the following year, the “Galería Bonino” will publish his portfolio Liricografías poems accompanied with ten paintings in colour. In 1960 his pictures will be exposed on the walls of the “Galería Acquarella” (Caracas) as well as the “Museo Histórico Nacionál” in Bogota. His feeling for the arts led him to decorate all kinds of furniture and other objects (fans, mirrors, boxes, doors), as a hobby to please friends, as well as to comply punctually with incoming commissions.
His arrival in Italy in 1963 made his italian roots even more visible – Alberti Merello – and he stayed in the district Trastevere for fourteen years. There, probably because of the language barrier, he expressed himself far better with the brush, and his acquaintances are to be found more among the painters and graphic artists such as Quatrucci, Vedova, Cagli or Mastroianni, than among poets. From those, he learns different forms of engraving, such as one in lead, which is nearly unknown, and about which even Picasso was amazed, when Alberti showed him engravings at one of his visits in Mougins. His vibrant personality led him to experiment with all kinds of techniques: tempera, watercolour, dry point, collages... His portfolios of serigraphs and litographs are exhibited in the most famous art galleries of Italy.
Alberti´s personal vision on graphic desing lead him to different works as poster designer. Some of his posters were spread throughout Italy such as rapporto tra l´uomo e l´ambiente naturalre, No allo sterminio degli ucelli, both in defence of nature and enviroment. His friendship with Joan Miró, Antoni Tàpies, Manolo Rivera, Carlos Saura, Robert Motherwell, Roberto Malta..., enabled him a collaboration in many mutual projects.
In 1964, he presents X Sonetos romanos (Ten Roman Sonnets), etchings and lead engravings, for which he wins the first prize for print-making at the “V Rassegna d´Arte Figurativo di Roma” in 1966 . In the same year he creates in homage to the 85th anniversary of Pablo Picasso Los ojos de Picasso, a portfolio which contains lead engravings and their original paintings in colour, which is exposed in the gallery “Galleria Il Segno” in Rome. In 1970, he finishes Corrida, a portfolio with serigraphs in which he emphasizes a very personal vision of bullfighting and his interpretation of the different bullfighting stages. In 1971, he creates Homenaje a Picasso, a portfolio of engravings, on the occasion of the ninetieth birthday of the painter from Málaga. In the exhibition called La palabra y el signo (The Word and the Sign) in 1972, he presents his portfolio El lirismo del alfabeto (The Poetry of the Alphabeth) in the gallery “Galería Rondanini” in Rome, which contains 26 coloured serigraphs and as many in black and white. In the same year, in a homage to his 70th anniversary, his complete graphic work is exhibited in the same gallery. In 1975, the Rodríguez Acosta Foundation commissions him with the portfolio Nunca fui a Granada; his portfolio with serigraphs, Canción de amor is published in 1977.
In Rome Alberti also designes the beautiful children´s game: El juego de la Oca Toro (a version of snakes and latters), as serigraph on wood, on which we can play with the pieces of geese and bulls according to the ancient rules of the game.
There, he also designed some drawings to be reproduced on beautiful silk handkerchiefs, shirts and dresses for women and even a ceremonial cape for the bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín.
Rafael Alberti´s pictorial work is characterized by its luminosity, where the colours, preferably in pastel, are combined and blurred in a wisdom that contrasts with the youthful strokes, which surprise being made already in advanced age.
In 1970, Rafael Alberti ist still in Italy, the College of Arquitects of Cataluña and Baleares organizes in Barcelona a magnificent exposition of his graphic and poetic work. After his return to Spain, he is commissioned to design the posters for the summer courses of the University Complutense en El Escorial as well as for the University of Almería of the following years. He is also commisioned to create posters for activities such as Encuentros en el Mediterráneo, A orillas del Guadalquivir, Bienal de Flamenco de Sevilla, omenaje a Machado, Claveles rojos para Mao-Tse Tung, Amnesty International, Carnaval de Cádiz, Feria de El Puerto de Santa María, Centenario Gorge Guillén, Centenario Gerardo Diego...His drawings illustrate his own books, as well as those of other writers, covers of records, posters for bullfights and campaigns of the Communist Party.
His abundant works in the world of graphic design have been highly praised, as his unique personality makes it impossible not to recognize immediately his authorship.
In 1985, Las 4 estaciones (The four Seasons) are presented in Madrid, a portfolio with twelve panel on which each season is represented by a handwritten poem and two drawings. In 1990 he creates his portfolio Bestiario (Bestiary), and in 1997 Todo Alberti (All Alberti), engraved in colour and divided into four groups: love, nature, bullfighting and the sea.
In 1991, the Contemporary Art Fair ARCO, paid homage to him with an anthological exhibition of his paintings, while he designed the fair's advertising poster.
Compared with the arabesque and multicoloured style of other phases, the minuteness of goldsmithery and small details, Rafael Alberti´s late style is, with some exeptions, characterised by the use of a single austere line of just one stroke, as if adjusting his age to his pictorial activity.