Conrad Marca-Relli was born to Italian parents in Boston on June 5, 1913. In 1927 he moved to New York with his family, where he attended a private art school and took evening classes in painting. It was amid this new environment that his interest for Italian Renaissance art matured. In 1930 he enrolled in an art program at the Cooper Union Institute, New York. While working at the WPA Federal Art Project from 1935 to 1938, he got to know such artists as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and John Graham, all of whom led him to completely change his vision of painting.

After completing his military service, he moved to Birdcliff, near Woodstock, where he produced paintings that were clearly influenced by Surrealist and Metaphysical art. Back in New York in 1947, he held his first solo exhibition at the Niveau Gallery and went to Paris in September of the same year. In 1948, disappointed by the Parisian art scene, he moved to Rome, where he exhibited for two consecutive years, became part of the Italian art circles, and befriended Afro Basaldella. His paintings of the period were characterized by increasing abstraction. In 1949 he went back to the U.S. and founded the Eight Street Club with Rothko, Kline, and de Kooning. In 1951 he organized the Ninth Street Show, a group exhibition of Abstract Expressionists organized by the artists themselves. In 1953 he organized the second Ninth Street Show at the Stable Gallery, where he also exhibited his first collages. The same year he moved to East Hampton, Long Island, and become close friends with Jackson Pollock.

In the 1950s and 1960s the artist was earning increasing recognition. He won the Chicago Art Institute’s Logan Medal in 1954, showed at the Venice Biennale in 1955, participated in the Documenta II, Kassel, in 1959, exhibited with Robert Motherwell in Düsseldorf in 1961, and took part in Abstrakte Americanische, an important Abstract Expressionist exhibition in Darmstadt the following year. The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, presented a retrospective of his work in 1967. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he spent time in Italy, New York, and various European capitals and lived for a while on a boat in France and the Balearic Islands. He moved to Parma in 1997 and the following year exhibited at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Conrad Marca-Relli died in Parma on August 29, 2000. That same year the Darmstadt Mathildenhöhe Institute presented a career retrospective of his work.