Alphonso Ossorio is a gay painter, who, already during the 1950s, challenged Abstract Expressionism by creating opulent, decorative abstract paintings; they foreshadowed his later work in collage.
Ossorio was born in Manila in 1916 to wealthy Filipino parents from the province of Negros Occidental. His heritage was Hispanic, Filipino, and Chinese. Between the ages of eight and thirteen, he attended school in England. At age fourteen, he moved to the United States. From 1934 to 1938, he studied fine art at Harvard University and then continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design. He became an American citizen in 1933 and served as a medical illustrator in the United States Army during World War II.
Ossorio's early work was surrealist. He was an admirer and early collector of the paintings of Jackson Pollock who counted him as a good friend. In the early 1950s, Ossorio was pouring oil and enamel paints onto canvas.
Ossorio traveled to Paris to met Jean Dubuffet in 1950. Dubuffet's interest in art brut opened up new vistas for Ossorio, who found release from society's preconceptions in the unstudied creativity of insane asylum inmates and children. On the advice of Pollack, Ossorio purchased an expansive 60-acre estate, "The Creeks", in East Hampton in 1951, and lived there for more than forty years. He arranged to house and display Dubuffet's art brut collection there.
In the 1950s, Ossorio began to create works resembling Dubuffet's assemblages. He affixed shells, bones, driftwood, nails, dolls' eyes, cabinet knobs, dice, costume jewelry, mirror shards, and children's toys to the panel surface. Ossorio called these assemblages congregations, with the term's obvious religious connotation.
Ossorio was represented alongside Dubuffet and nearly 140 other artists in the Museum of Modern Art's 1961 exhibition The Art of Assemblage, which introduced the practice to a broad public.
Ossorio died in New York City in 1990. Half his ashes were scattered at his grand estate "The Creeks" and the other half came to rest nine years later at Green River Cemetery alongside the remains of many other famous artists, writers and critics.
After his death, his longtime companion Edward "Ted" Dragon arranged for the sale of "The Creeks", eventually it selling to Ronald Perelman complete with many of Ossorio's brightly colored found art sculptures placed in among the groves of exotic evergreens that Ossorio had carefully planted in his final 20 years of life.
Harvard University Art Museums (Massachusetts), the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Housatonic Museum of Art (Bridgeport, Connecticut) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington D.C.) are among the public collections holding work by Alfonso A. Ossorio.