b. 1911, Santiago, Chile
d. 2002, Civitavecchia, Italy
Roberto Matta Echaurren was born in Santiago de Chile in 1911. He was originally trained as an architect and in 1935 he traveled to Paris, where he worked with Le Corbusier. It was in Paris where he met a variety of artists and intellectuals including Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Salvador Dalí, André Breton and Marcel Duchamp, whose influence would forge the early period of his work as an artist. His new acquaintances led him to join the Surrealist group in 1937.
In 1938, Matta started developing the style he would be recognized for worldwide, switching from crayon to oil painting. This series of paintings are known as “Inscapes” and “Psychological Morphologies.” They focus on the psyche of the artist, emphasizing the Freudian conception of the mind as a three-dimensional space. This was also the period when he moved to New York City, escaping the war in Europe. In New York Matta new friendships and influences include Jackson Pollock, William Baziotes, Peter Busa, Robert Motherwell, and Arshile Gorky.
In 1948 Matta was thrown out of the Surrealist group. His work began to shift away from Surrealism as a whole by incorporating more of a social and a political dimension to his pieces. This shift was influenced by the atrocities Matta witnessed of WWII and by his return to Latin America, becoming a strong supporter of Salvador Allende’s leftist regime in Chile. His painting started to become more figurative, more narrative and more political, as seen in his series “Social Morphologies”. From then, Matta would never return to the Surrealist group.
Roberto Matta spent the last years of his life in Italy, where his work continued on a more experimental track: he ventured into graphic arts, started adding clay onto his canvases, and created sculptures and ceramics. He had major solo shows at the Museum of Modern Art of New York, The National Gallery in Berlin, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris throughout the 70’s and 80’s. He remains one of the most important figures in Surrealism.