Roberto Matta (1911-2002)
Born in 1911 in Santiago, Chile, Roberto Matta studied architecture first before turning his focus to drawing and painting. In 1933, he moved to France and worked for two years in the studio of Le Corbusier. During this period he formed friendships with figures of the literary avant-garde such as Frederico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda, and Gabriela Mistral. Moving in this circle he made the acquaintance of Salvador Dalí who introduced him to André Breton. Breton identified Matta’s penchant for Surrealism immediately in his drawings and paintings. To encourage Matta, Breton bought numerous canvases and drawings from him. In 1937, the Chilean artist officially became a Surrealist. ‘The element into which he dove’, wrote Breton, ‘has nothing to do with physically breathable air. His world, outside lived realities, leads us through irrational immensities that seem familiar to us by their recall of states of dreams.’
The same year, 1937, he was in charge of the Spanish Pavilion at the International Exhibition of Art and Technology in Modern Life, in Paris, which he shared with Magritte, Miró, and Picasso (who exhibited Guernica). Matta also illustrated newspaper articles in the Surrealist journal Minotaure. Indeed it was his Morphologies psychologiques that truly launched his career, in which he explored colour and silhouettes, and gave life to a rich cerebral space. When the Second World War broke out, he left Paris and moved to New York, where he remained for several years before returning to Europe permanently in the late 1940s. In the mid-1940s, Matta painted Le Poète (Un poète de notre connaissance). He expanded the subjects of his paintings, which no longer focused exclusively on exploration of the subconscious, instead taking new interest in the society that surrounded him. He also painted his series Morphologies sociales, which introduced threatening machines.
His interest in social issues distanced him from the rest of the Surrealists, and in 1948, André Breton expelled him from the group. Ten years later he was invited to return to the group, but Matta declined the offer. The artist travelled extensively in the 1950s and 1960s in Africa, Latin America, and Europe, becoming more and more engaged in politics. He painted canvases that made reference to the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (Les Rosenbelles), to the Algerian war (La Question), and he supported Salvador Allende. In honour of Allende, he painted the fresco The First Goal of the Chilean People in Santiago, Chile, in 1971. In the 1970s he started favouring large-scale painting. Following the coup d’état that overthrew Allende in Chile in 1973, Matta cut himself off from his homeland. ‘It is this exile that has determined my entire life, between two cultures’, he wrote. ‘My work is a work of separation.’ He died November 23, 2002 in Italy.
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Art works from Roberto Matta
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