Chilean-born artist Roberto Matta was an international figure whose worldview represented a synthesis of European, American and Latin American cultures. As a member of the Surrealist movement and an early mentor to several Abstract Expressionists, Matta broke with both groups to pursue a highly personal artistic vision. His mature work blended abstraction, figuration and multi-dimensional spaces into complex, cosmic landscapes. Matta’s long and prolific career was defined by a strong social conscience and an intense exploration of the his internal and external worlds.
Matta’s earliest works were abstract crayon drawings produced using the Surrealist practice of automatism. In these drawings, he referenced organic growth patterns, microscopic views of plants and the non-Euclidean geometry described by mathematician Jules Henri Poincare. Matta transitioned from drawing to oil painting in 1938, while working in Brittany with the British artist Gordon Onslow Ford. The works that Matta created around this time were the first of what he called his “Psychological Morphologies”. In these paintings, Mata explored his subconscious mind through a language of abstract forms and constantly evolving,
multi-dimensional spaces. Matta also referred to these works as “Inscapes”, with the implication that they depicted the interior landscape of the artist’s mind, interconnected with his external reality.
Matta was well established within the Surrealist group by the time that he was forced to flee Europe for America in the fall of 1939. When Matta arrived in New York City, he was the youngest and most outgoing of Surrealist emigres. These traits, combined with a shared interest in automatist
art-making techniques, allowed Matta to quickly form relationships with several of the young New York School artists. Throughout the first half of the 1940s, Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, William Baziotes, Peter Busa, Robert Motherwell and others met frequently with Matta to learn about
In the mid-1940s, Matta’s work changed dramatically. Responding to the continuing horrors of the Second World War, Matta expanded his artistic interests beyond his exploration of the subconscious mind. He moved towards a more active engagement with the world in a series of works that he called
“Social Morphologies”. Many of Matta’s paintings from this period incorporate strangely menacing, machine-like contraptions and totemic human forms. He pitted these elements against each other in seemingly constant battle within a landscape of amorphous spaces and vaguely architectural planes.
These works have a new emotional immediacy, reverberating with a formal tension created by the often violently oppositional forms.