A self-taught painter, by the end of his formative years he had become one of the greatest Italian artists of his generation. He started painting in the early 1950s, choosing realism in the debate between abstract and figurative art in the immediate post-war period. Even from his early works, however, Sughi’s paintings have avoided any attempt at social moralising. They depict moments from daily life with no heroes, allowing Enrico Crispolti, in 1956, to define his work as «existential realism». His artistic expression proceeds, almost always, in thematic cycles, in the manner of film sequences. First of all, there were his so-called «green paintings», devoted to the relationship between man and nature (1971-1973), then the Supper cycle (1975-1976), after that the 20 paintings and fifteen studies of Imagination and Memory of the Family, dating from the early 1980s; the series Evening or reflection started from 1985. His most recent series of large canvases, exhibited in 2000, is entitled Nocturnal.
Sughi has taken part in all the most important collective exhibitions of contemporary art, from the International Biennale art exhibition in Venice to the Quadriennale in Rome, as well as various exhibitions that have been held abroad, charting the history of Italian art from the 1970s until today. Italian and foreign museums have held large retrospective exhibitions; among the most significant are the Gallery of Modern Art in Bologna (1977), the Manezh Gallery in Moscow (1978), the Museum of Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, the Fine Arts Museum in Budapest and the National Gallery in Prague (1986), the Civic Modern Art Gallery in Ferrara (1988), the Casa Masaccio in San Giovanni Valdarno (1990), the Assis Chateaubriand Art Gallery in Sao Paolo in Brazil (1994) and the Civic Museum of San Sepolcro (2003). The artist has taken part in the cycle of exhibitions entitled The search for identity in Cagliari, Palermo and Ascoli Piceno (2003-2004), the exhibition Evil. Exercises in cruel painting at the Hunting Lodge of Stupinigi, in Turin (2005), and the exhibition «Intimate Portraits from Lotto to Pirandello», at the Regional Archaeological Museum in Aosta (2005).
At the end of 2005 and until 21 January 2006, a large retrospective exhibition of Sughi’s work was held at the Palazzo della Pilotta in Parma. The exhibition contained 642 works, including paintings, tempera, drawings, and lithographs, made between 1959 and 2004, and owned by the collections of the Centro Studi ed Archivio della Comunicazione (CSAC) at the University of Parma, including the painting Rimmel, made in 2004. In April and May 2006, the modern art gallery in Arezzo held the exhibition il Segno e l’Immagine, consisting of 50 works (all made on paper and then applied to canvas) painted in 2005 and 2006. 2007 has seen two new major Alberto Sughi’s solo exhibitions, the first hold in the new rooms of the Biblioteca Malatestiana di Cesena, the second in the Complesso Vittoriano, Rome.
In 1994, Alberto Sughi was appointed director of the Ente Quadriennale Nazionale d’ Arte in Rome.