Roberto Matta was born on November 11, 1911 in Santiago, Chile. Matta was educated as an architect and as an interior designer at the Sacre Coeur Jesuit College and at the Catholic University of Santiago, from 1929-31. From 1933-34 he worked in Paris as a drafter for a famous architect named Le Corbusier. At the end of 1934 Matta visited Spain, where he met Federico Garcia Lorca, a poet/playwright, who through a letter, introduced Matta to Salvador Dali (surrealist). After meeting with Dali, Matta was encouraged to show some of his drawings to Andre Breton, another surrealist. Matta’s meeting with Dali and Breton strongly influenced his formation as an artist as well as connecting him to the Surrealist movement. In 1936 Matta worked in London with Walter Gropius and Laszio Moholy-Nagy (both architects). While Matta was employed by the architects of the Spanish Republican pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition. Matta was exposed to Picasso’s “Guernica” which greatly impressed him and influenced him in his work. Around the same time, Matta was introduced to the work of Marcel Duchamp(dadaist). He later went to Scandinavia where he met the architect Alvar Aalto and then to Russia where he worked on housing design projects( ). In the summer of 1938 Matta’s work evolved from a sketch into a painting. In 1938 before the start of the war (WWII) Matta fled Europe and headed towards New York, where he lived for ten years and left his imprint on the art scene and the world.
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Before one can have an understanding of Roberto Matta’s work, one must first define Surrealism, it’s precedents, history and its origin as well as what was occurring in society and how it influenced Matta’s art during is carreer.
Surrealism grew directly out of the movement known as Dadaism, which was founded during World War I (1914-1918) as a reaction to the massive destruction and loss of life brought about by the war. The main purpose of the Dadaist movement was to ridicule culture, reason, technology, and art. Dadaists believed that any faith in humanity’s ability to improve itself through art and culture, especially after the unprecedented destruction of the war, was naive and unrealistic( ). As a result, the dadaists created works using accident, chance, and anything that underscored the irrationality of humanity: for example, making poems out of pieces of newspaper chosen at random and displaying everyday objects as art( ).
Like Dadaism, surrealism stressed the role of the unconscious in creative activity, but it used the psychic unconscious in a more orderly, positive and serious manner. Surrealism celebrated the realm of dreams and the unconscious mind through the creation of visual art, poetry and motion pictures. Surrealists were heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud. In a nutshell, Freud believed that the unconscious mind revealed itself in times when the conscious mind was relaxed such as in dreams, myths, slips of the tongue, accidents, and art. With this notion or paradigm, the surrealists invented new art forms and techniques. One of the most important techniques used to elicit the unconscious during the Surrealist movement and Roberto Matta’s signature technique was Automatism. In painting, Automatism consists of allowing the hand to wander across the canvas surface without any interference from the conscious mind. The resulting marks, it was thought, would not be random or meaningless, but would be guided at every point by the functioning of the artist’s unconscious mind, and not by rational thought or artistic training ( ). A painting that best describes Matta’s use of automatism was the "Elle s’y Gare," as well as other paintings such as the “Psychological Morphology” collection. In these paintings the viewer, can easily understand the subconscious and automatism.
First I’ll start with the span of his artistic career and how his art changed along with society. What will be analyzed mostly is the work created in 1940’s-1970’s. Matta’s artistic carreer as a surrealist started in the 1940’s and ended until the late 1990’s upon his death. His work can be divided into two epochs. The first epoch started in the 40’s during World War II and ended in 1947 when he was expelled from the surrealist movement, and the second epoch, started in the 50’s and lasted until the late 90’s. During the first epoch Matta’s work was very automatistic, very surreal, and as always dealt with something occurring in society, World War II. The work during this time was biomorphic, fluid, organic, and the landscapes or spaces he created were very dream state like. Some of his paintings that best demonstrated these characteristics were, “crucifixion(1938)” which was inspired by the cubist, Picasso and had a few parallels with Picasso’s “Guernica,” other paintings were “Psychological Morphology (1938)” and “Prescience (1939)”. During this time, in my opinion his work was very experimental and political. Due to the birth of a new movement and the war. In contrast to his earlier work (40’s-50’s), his later work which spanned 30-40yrs had more of a political and spiritual intention. His artwork seemed to represent the constant struggle between man and machine. In my opinion man and machine symbolizes war such as WWII and the aftermath as well as political system in our country as well as others. A lot of his work during this time had metallic forms appearing to be in battle, sharp edges, the color palette was much more bold, and apocalyptic; and the themes in his artwork related to events occurring in such places as Vietnam, Alabama and Santo Domingo. Paintings that expressed these characteristics: "L’Impencible(1957)”,"Le Royome de Yeux 1960,” etc…
Many artists and art movements have been inspired by Matta’s work and the surrealist movement. Such artists and art movements consist of abstract expressionism and artists such as Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky. Through Matta’s carreer his artwork/painting reflected and expressed the environment in which he lived in. Early on before his career stared he was inspired by great artists such as Dali, Breton, and Picasso. Later on Matta became just as important to the art world and to the surrealist movement as his mentors. He was one of the few Surrealist artists to take on political, social, and spiritual themes. Roberto Matta painted until the day he died, but his legacy and his work continues to inspire artist’s, critic’s, and society.
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