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 Roberto Antonio (Echaurren) Matta  (1911 - 2002)

/ MAH-tah/
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Lived/Active: New York/Illinois / Chile/Italy/France      Known for: abstract figurative and surreal painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Roberto Matta
Facts/Data
Birth
1911 (Santiago, Chile)
 
Death
2002 (Civitavecchia, Italy)

Lived/Active
New York/Illinois / Chile/Italy/France


© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Often Known For
abstract figurative and surreal painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Roberto Matta was born on November 11, 1911, and brought up in Santiago, Chile. He was educated in his native country as an architect and interior designer at the Sacr Coeur Jesuit College and at the Catholic University of Santiago from 1929 to 1931. In 1933 he became a Merchant Marine which enabled him to leave Santiago and travel to Europe. In the 1930s he went to Paris where he studied architecture under LeCorbusier. At the end of 1934 Matta visited Spain, where he met the poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, who through a letter introduced young Roberto to Salvador Dali. Dali in turn 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 Laszo Moholy-Nagy. Matta was exposed to Picasso's Guernica which greatly impressed and influenced him. At this time, he was introduced to the work of Marcel Duchamp, whom he met not long after. The summer of 1938 marks the evolution of Matta's work from drawing to painting.

An active member of the Surrealist movement from 1938 until 1947, he lived in New York with Breton, Tanguy, Ernst, Masson, etc. during World War II and his influence there was strong. His most characteristic works border on abstraction and evoke fantastic subjective landscapes.

In 1947 Matta was expelled from the surrealists. By the 1950s and 60s he established homes in Rome, Paris and London. He lived with his wife and son in Rome and painted only when he felt like it. The 1960s 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. As Chilean painter and printmaker, Matta left Chile as a young man and did not like to be thought of as a "Latin American" artist. He was one of the few Surrealist artists to take on political, social and spiritual themes directly and without resorting to social realism.


Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources:
Time Magazine, May 4, 1953
The Oxford Dictionary of Art, Oxford University Press 1988, edited by Jan Chilvers, Harold Osborne and Dennis Farr
From the internet, AskART.com
ARTnews, February 1999

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Roberto Matta died November 23, 2002 at a hospital in Civitavecchia, near the Tuscan town of Tarquinia, Italy where he lived in a convent. The Chilean government declared three days of mourning and Chilean President Ricardo Lagos said that "Matta's death represents the passing of one of the last major figures of painting in the 20th century."

He was the creator of the "accident", spilled pigment on canvas.

From obituary in Scottsdale Tribune, 11/25/2002


Biography from Art Cellar Exchange:
Roberto Antonio Sebastian 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 Sacre Coeur Jesuit 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 in turn 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 Laszlo 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 projects.

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 1938. In an article by Kathy Zimmerer of Latin American Masters, Beverly Hills, she describes "Crucifiction" [1938] 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 works and with Surrealist theories of practice, Matta began his exploration of the visionary landscape of the subconscious. Matta looked to his friend and mentor Yves Tanguy whose works recall the hellscapes and allegories of 15th and 16th century Dutch artists such as Bosch or Bruegel. In addition, both Matta and Tanguy create a universe that is simultaneously fiery and chilly that is often connected to their own social consciousness of the on-going war in Europe. Canady in "Mainstreams of Modern Art", describes Matta's composition versus Tanguy'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 Tanguy's strong influence, there are parallels between Picasso's Guernica and Matta's Crucifixion. Both works of art motivated by their respective spiritual and social consciousness. In Guernica, Picasso emphasizes the "spiritual hideousness of which mankind is generally 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 we declare 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 Action painting.

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 the 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 related to 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.


Biography from Denis Bloch Fine Art:
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 Jesuit 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 at the atelier of famed architect Le Corbusier. At the end of 1934 Matta visited Spain, where he met the poet and playwright Federico García Lorca who introduced Matta to Salvador Dalí.  Dalí encouraged him to show some of his drawings to Surrealist leader Andre Breton.

Matta's acquaintance with Dalí and Breton strongly influenced his artistic formation and he officially joined the Surrealists 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 1937 Paris International Exhibition exposed him to Picasso's powerful painting Guernica, which greatly impressed him and influenced him in his own work.

At this time, he was introduced to the work of Marcel Duchamp, whom he met soon after.  He later went to Scandinavia where he met the architect Alvar Aalto and then to Russia where he worked on housing design projects.

The summer of 1938 marked the evolution of Matta's work from drawing to painting.  He completed his first oil paintings while in Brittany and working with Gordon Onslow Ford.  Forced to leave Europe with the outbreak of war, Matta arrived in New York City in the fall of 1938.

Consistent with his later works and with Surrealist theories of practice, Matta began his exploration of the visionary landscape of the subconscious using color to created energized forms and space. Matta looked to his friend and mentor Yves Tanguy whose works are reminiscent of 15th and 16th century Dutch artists such as Bosch or Bruegel.  In addition, both Matta and Tanguy create a universe that is simultaneously fiery & chilly that is often connected to their own social consciousness of the ongoing war in Europe.

Matta's style and willing exploration of the surrealist philosophy of "automatic composition" heavily influenced the development of the New York Abstract Expressionist School and their exploration of Action painting.  The 1940s also signified the re-entry of the human figure into his compositions creating a compositional dialogue of Man versus the Machine.  The forms he created were organic and existed in symbiotic relationships with machines.

In 1947, Matta was expelled from the surrealists' group, and he returned to Europe. By the 1950s & 60s he established homes in Rome, Paris, and London. He visited Cuba in the 1960s to work with art students. His work of the 1960s tended to have distinct political and spiritual intentions.  Much of his work consisted of themes related to political events occurring in such places as Vietnam, Santo Domingo, and Alabama.

The 1960s marked not only a change in Matta’s themes, but in his style. He found influences in contemporary culture while remaining close to his Surrealist roots. 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 were exploited with a fully conscious purpose.

Matta was commissioned to create a large mural for the UNESCO building in Paris in 1956. Major retrospective exhibitions of his work were presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1957 and at the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris in 1985. During an interview at the latter show, the artist described his point of view as an interest in “the phenomenon of capturing the spark produced in the act of understanding.”

As a Chilean painter, printmaker and draftsman, 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 was known for and without resorting to social realism. Matta died in Civitavecchia, Italy on November 23, 2002.

QUOTE:
“The only Surrealist that I knew well was Matta. He was the most energetic,enthusiastic, charming, brilliant poet and young artist that I met in the spring of 1941. One must recognize that no one in the group had achieved Matta’s recognition and fame. He was such an enthusiastic and extremely important person to the movement. His guiding spirit was a catalyst”. (Artist Robert Motherwell on Roberto Matta)

Select Museum Collections:
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Museum of Modern Art, NY
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC
Fundación Proa, Buenos Aires
Fundación Telefónica, Chile
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Chile
Tate Gallery, London


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