Roberto Matta, Chilean (1911 - 2002)
Roberto Antonio Sebastián Matta Echaurren was born on November
11, 1911 in Santiago, Chile. Matta was educated in his native
country as an architect and interior designer at the Sacré Coeur
College and at the Catholic University of Santiago, from 1929-31.
In 1933 he became a Merchant Marine which enabled him to leave
Santiago and travel to Europe. From 1933-34 he worked in Paris
as an atelier for famed-architect Lecorbusier. At the end of
1934 Matta visited Spain, where he met the poet and playwright
Federico García Lorca, who through a letter, introduced young
Roberto to Salvador Dalí. Dali inturn encouraged Matta to show
some of his drawings to Andre Breton.
Matta's acquaintance with Dali and Breton strongly influenced
his artistic formation and subsequently connected him to the
Surrealist movement, which he officially joined in 1937. He
was in London for a
short period in 1936 and worked with Walter Gropius and László
Moholy-Nagy. Matta's employment with the architects of the Spanish
Republican pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition (1937)
exposed him to Picasso's Guernica (1937; Madrid, Prado) which
greatly impressed him and influenced him in his work. At this
time, he was introduced to the work of Marcel Duchamp, whom
he met not
long after. He later went to Scandinavia where he met the architect
Alvar Aalto and then to Russia where he worked on housing design
The summer of 1938 marks the evolution of Matta's work from
drawing to painting. Roberto completed his first inscape oil
paintings while in Brittany and working with Gordon Onslow Ford
in Brittany. Forced to leave Europe with the outbreak of war,
Roberto arrived in New York in the Fall of 1939. In an article
by Kathy Zimmerer of Latin American Masters, Beverly Hills,
she describes Crucifiction  as: "evolving biomorphic
forms that mutate and flow across the surface of the canvas
Matta's fluid realm of space cushions their journey. His luminous
palette of deep crimson, yellow, blue and black, defines and
outlines the organic forms as they undergo metamorphoses."
Crucifiction is representative of a non-figurative period of
Matta's work where he developed his palette and use of color
to create energized forms and space. Consistent with his later
with Surrealist theories of practice, Matta began his exploration
of the visionary landscape of the subconscious. Matta looked
to his friend and mentor Yves Tanguay whose works recall the
and allegories of 15th and16th century Dutch artists such as
Bosch or Bruegel. In addition, both Matta and Tanguay create
a universe that is simultaneously firey and chilly that is often
connected to their own social consciousness of the on-going
war in Europe. Canady in "Mainstreams of Monder Art",
describes Matta's composition versus Tanguay's as have a "more
diagrammatic composition [possibly a result of his architectural
training] where a kind of astral geometry organizes the holocaust."
In addition to Tanguay's strong influence, there are parallels
between Picasso's Guernica and Matta's Crucifixion. Both works
of art motivated by their respecitve spiritual and social consciousness.
Guernica, Picasso emphasizes the "spiritual hideousness
of which mankind is generaly capable". Matta focuses on
the spiritual affect of the machinations of war. The visual
landscape he creates connects
us to each other, implying that when wedeclare war on others,
we are really waging war with ourselves. These ideas are embodied
in fluid forms and in their fluidity, texture, and contrast.
Matta's style and willing exploration of the surrealist philosophy
of automatic composition heavily influenced the development
of the Abstract Expressionist school and their exploration of
Roberto Matta first exhibited in the Julian Levy Gallery, New
York in 1940. The 40's signified the re-entry of the human figure
in Matta's compositions creating a compositional dialogue of
Man vs. the
Machine. The forms he created were organic and existed in symbiotic
relationships with machines.
In 1947, Matta was expelled from the surrealists. By 1950's
and 60's he established homes in Rome, Paris, and London. Roberto
visited Cuba in 1960's to work with art students. 1962 awarded
Marzotto Prize for La Question Djamilla, inspired by the Spanish
Civil War. His work of the 1960's tended to have distinct political
and spiritual intentions. Much of his work consisted themes
events occurring such places as Vietnam, Santo Domingo, and
Alabama. An exhibition of 1968 at the Iolas Gallery in New York
displayed much of this work.
The 1960's marked not only a change in his themes, but in his
style. He found influence in contemporary culture while remaining
close to his Surrealist roots. His work can generally be split
into two areas: cosmic and apocalyptic paintings. Elle s'y Gare,
is an example of the cosmic arena and what Andre Breton called
"absolute automatism". The idea of automatism was
a key element of the Surrealist movement, which emphasized the
suppression of conscious control over a composition in order
to give free reign to the unconscious imagery and associations.
Matta used automatism in a manner that allowed one form to give
rise to another until unification was achieved or until further
elaboration destroyed the composition. These "chance"
compositions are exploited with a fully conscious purpose. The
artist takes over.
As Chilean painter, printmaker and draughtsman, Matta left Chile
as a young man and did not like to be thought of as a "Latin
American" artist. He was certainly one of the few Surrealist
artists to take on
political, social, and spiritual themes directly and without
abandoning the biomorphic mutations he is known for and without
resorting to social realism.