Roberto Antonio Sebastián Matta Echaurren
Year, Birthplace 1911, Chile
Year, Place of death 2002, Italy
Roberto Matta began studying architecture and design in Santiago (at the Pontifícia Universidad Católica de Chile, 1929-1931). In 1933 he enlisted in the merchant navy, which took him to Europe. From 1933-1934, he worked at Le Corbusier's studio in Paris. After completing his training in London, he became Josep Lluis Sert's assistant for the design of the pavilion for the Spanish Republic at the 1937 Paris International Exhibition (where he was deeply moved by Pablo Picasso's work Guernica, the creation of which he watched day after day). During his stay, he visited the International Surrealist Exhibition. On his numerous trips to Europe, he forged links with Federico Garcia Lorca, Henry Moore, Roland Penrose and René Magritte. Lorca introduced him to Salvador Dalí, who in turn encouraged him to meet André Breton. His meeting with Breton was made possible due to the insistence of Esteban Francés, who challenged him to show Breton his drawings in October 1937 at the Galerie Gradiva. Breton immediately bought two of them and invited him to collaborate on an illustrated edition of Les Chants de Maldoror [The Songs of Maldoror] and to take part in the next surrealist exhibition (1938). Soon after, Matta abandoned architecture in order to dedicate himself to his painting, creating Cosmogonies and Psychologies morphologiques [Morphological Psychologies] and Architectures psychologiques [Psychological Architectures], which were representations of mental landscapes that associated figurative and abstract forms in a similar fashion to automatic writing. These works show the influences of Dalí and Yves Tanguy, and of the printmaker Stanley William Hayter. After being introduced to the surrealist group, Matta soon became involved in all its activities (the 1938 Exposition internationale du surréalisme, the journal Minotaure), and was a member of the new generation which included Wolfgang Paalen, Gordon Onslow Ford, Óscar Domínguez, Hans Bellmer, Victor Brauner, Kurt Seligmann and Paul Delvaux. At the end of spring 1939, he spent a season in Chemillieu, with Breton, Tanguy, Francés and Onslow Ford. After war was declared, he took Marcel Duchamp's advice and left Europe for New York at the beginning of 1940, where he again met up with Tanguy. Matta was one of the most active members of the ‘artists in exile'. Six months after his arrival, he showed his work at the Julien Levy Gallery (and did so again in 1943; he also had exhibitions at the Pierre Matisse's gallery in 1942, 1944 and 1945). His friend Onslow Ford gave talks on surrealism at the New School of Social Research in which he commented extensively on Matta's works. He was associated with William Baziotes, Arshile Gorky and Robert Motherwell, who frequented his studio, and also with Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Together with Motherwell, Matta travelled to Mexico over the summer of 1941. Through all these connections with the new generation and through his involvement in the New York scene, he contributed to the birth of American abstract expressionism. He took part in the activities of the surrealist group, which was reactivated by the arrival of Breton in 1941. Breton then developed the myth of the Grands transparents [the Great Invisibles] and used one of Matta's drawings, Los Grandes Transparentes, to give his notion a graphic dimension. At the end of the war, Matta stayed on in the United States for a while. On his return to Europe in 1948, he settled in Rome, where he remained until 1954. In 1948, he was expelled from the surrealist group due to his relationship with Agnes Magruder, Gorky's wife, which was probably one of the reasons that led to the Armenian painter's suicide. Large-scale works encompass the issues that he was most interested in, such as the Rosenberg trial (Les roses sont belles [The Roses are Beautiful]) in 1951; torture in Algeria (La question Djamila [The Djamila Question]) in 1957; the execution of Julian Grimau (Les puissances du désordre [The Powers of Disorder]) in 1963; and the Vietnam war (Burn, Baby Burn) and racism in Alabama between 1965 and 1966. His political involvement became increasingly important: he donated the work Si Cuba, si Argelia también to the Musée national des beaux-arts of Argel commemorate the new Algerian Republic; in 1968 he took part in the first Congress of Havana, to debate the cultural problems of underdeveloped nations; he was actively involved with the events of May 1968 in France; and, finally, in 1973, he took a violent stance against the coup d'etat by General Pinochet in Chile, cutting all ties with his homeland. After a major retrospective in his home town two years previously, three days of mourning were declared to honour the memory of the son of the Chilean nation following the announcement of his death. Colourful and violent – even aggressive, at the start – his work, populated by robots, automata, insects, primitive figures and dreamlike forms, illustrates the hallucinatory dreams and the icy nightmares of our technological civilization. AC