Tuesday 19 July 2011


Roberto Matta (1911 – 2002) known as Matta, was one of Chile’s best-known painters and a seminal figure in 20th century abstract expressionist and surrealist art.

Born in Santiago he initially studied architecture at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, but became disillusioned with this occupation and left for Paris in 1933. His travels in Europe and the USA led him to meet artists such as Arshile Gorky, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, André Breton, and Le Corbusier.

It was Breton who provided the major spur to Matta’s direction in art, encouraging his work and introducing him to the leading members of the Paris Surrealist movement. Matta produced illustrations and articles for Surrealist journals such as Minotaure. During this period he was introduced to the work of many prominent contemporary European artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp.

The first true flowering of Matta's own art came in 1938, when he moved from drawing to the oil painting for which he is best known. This period coincided with his emigration to the United States, where he lived until 1948. His early paintings, such as Invasion of the Night, give an indication of the work he would continue, with diffuse light patterns and bold lines on a featureless background.

1940 Invasion of the Night
During the 1940s and 1950s, the disturbing state of world politics found reflection in Matta's work, with the canvases becoming busy with images of electrical machinery and distressed figures. The addition of clay to Matta's paintings in the early 1960s lent an added dimension to the distortions.
Matta's connections with Breton's surrealist movement were severed when a private disagreement concerning Arshile Gorky and his family (when Matta was accused of indirectly causing the suicide of Gorky because of Matta's relationship with the wife of the Armenian-American painter), and led to his expulsion from the group, but by this time his own name was becoming widely known.

He divided his life between Europe and South America during the 1950s and 1960s, successfully combining the political and the semi-abstract in epic surreal canvases. Matta believed that art and poetry can change the lives of people, and was very involved in the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. He was a strong supporter of the socialist government of president Salvador Allende in Chile. A 4 x 24 metre mural of his entitled The First Goal of the Chilean People was painted over with 16 coats of paint by the military regime of Augusto Pinochet following their violent overthrow of Salvador Allende in 1973. In 2005 the mural was discovered by local officials. In 2008 the mural was completely restored at a cost of $43,000, and is displayed today in Santiago at the La Granja city hall. (I haven’t shown it here because frankly I think it has more political than artistic merit).
Matta died in Italy in 2002. Matta is the father of the artists Gordon Matta-Clark and his twin brother Sebastian, and Ramuntcho Matta. See Gordon Matta-Clark in my index.

1937 Untitled

1937 Untitled

1938 Morphologie psychologique de l'attente

1938 Morphologie psychologique de l'espour

1940 Light-forms

1941 L'èternite du fini

1942 The Disasters of Mysticism

1943 Eronisme

1945 X-Space and the Ego

1949 Untitled

1952 Let any Flowers Bloom

1954 Untitled

1958 L'Etang de No

1961 Instinct Caliban

1965 Untitled

1967 Semeur d'incendies

1974-76 Wake

1982 Le je et moi

1983 Fiat Lux

1990 El cosmos de la hierba

1997 Ecce Homo

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