Surrealist Painter Roberto Matta

“Painting has one foot in architecture and one foot in the dream.” ~Roberto Matta

Three Figures. M.T. Abraham Foundation. Creative Commons.

He was born in Chile as Roberto Antonio Sebastián Matta Echaurren (1911–2002) but in the art world he was best known as Roberto Matta, a seminal figure in 20th century abstract expressionism and surrealist art.

Like most young art students, I devoured the art books in the library and the magazines that introduced us to who was doing what. When I saw several Matta paintings in an Art Forum story, I was immediately jazzed. The forms, complexity and distinctiveness were striking. I hungered to see more. Sadly, we had no Internet in those days, so my exposure to anything further was limited.

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Roberto Matta. (Public domain)

Matta began his career as an architect. He then went to Paris where he got a job as a draftsman. This gave him opportunity to travel extensively through Europe. In 1934 he met Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dali, who encouraged him to share some of his drawings with Andre Breton, whose interest in Freud and the unconscious were formative in the Surrealist movement that inspired and spawned so many great artists. In 1937 Matta met Picasso, who encouraged him to join the surrealists, which he did, only to be expelled ten years later.

This excerpt from Wikipedia describes the emergence of Matta’s style and impact:

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. This is also the period of the “inscape” series, and the closely related “psychological morphologies”. Prof. Claude Cernuschi writes, “Matta’s key ambition to represent and evoke the human psyche in visual form was filtered through the writings of Freud and the psychoanalytic view of the mind as a three-dimensional space: the ‘inscape’.”

According to the essay on Matta in Crosscurrents of Modernism, the inscapes’ evocative forms “are visual analogies for the artist’s psyche”. 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.

What intrigued me about his work was the freedom within the forms in which he expressed his ideas. Though he may be lesser known of the surrealists, he played a role in my personal development as a painter. Here is a website featuring paintings, prints and more.

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