When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

CLARIN

Matta, The Singular Master Of South American Surrealism

Chile's preeminent 20th-century artist and a leading global figure of surrealism and abstraction, Matta's work was both unique and quintessentially Latin American.

Painting by Roberto Matta
Painting by Roberto Matta
Mercedes Perez Bergliaffa

BUENOS AIRES Roberto Matta Echaurren, known simply as Matta, once said that life resembles rivers much more than an "upright tree." Rivers "flow, carry memories, desires, anxiety, love and poetry. It is energy. And one needs that energy at life's critical moments."

Forty of Matta's paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures are now on display in Buenos Aires, at an exhibition titled Este Lado Del Mundo ("This Side of the World"), organized by the Chilean embassy's Matta Cultural Center. It presents viewers with a double opportunity, to get to know both the center and the art of Matta, so seldom seen here despite his historical importance, which has grown since his death in Civitavecchia, Italy in 2002.

Matta's life was brilliant and restless, guided by a healthy dose of unlikely fate. Trained as an architect, he travelled to Europe in the 1930s, and by 1936 was working as a designer at Le Corbusier's studio in Paris. "I was just an architect then," he once said. "I knew nothing about art or poetry."

During that time, he became acquainted with surrealist André Breton and with Edward Onslow Ford (who was in Breton's circle of painters), who lent him a house in England for six months. He also gave him paints and canvases, before telling him alongside Breton, "now paint." Matta had never painted before.

Yet that was the experience that molded his unfamiliar forms and the gestures that "emerged from the dark," as he characterized it. "Almost like striking a match or pressing your finger onto an eye and seeing sparkles." The pseudo-landscapes emerging in the artist's mind, which he termed "psychological morphologies," became the leitmotiv of his entire work, especially early on (1938-48).

New techniques

Some critics call them interior landscapes. Matta would create them on the basis of "hallucinations" he would perceive as he applied the very first strokes of paint onto the canvas. This exploration created unfamiliar structures that differed from the imagery of other surrealists who created images seen or half-remembered from dreams. Such structures are illustrated in the exhibition in works such as Mind, Mind, Mind (1951) or Composition With Green Tones (1939).

[rebelmouse-image 27089787 alt="""" original_size="755x495" expand=1]

Roberto Matta's "Composition With Green Tones" (1939) — Source: Colección Eduardo Constantini

In 1939, Matta travelled to New York with his first wife, Anne Clark, to get away from World War II. For a while, he developed his techniques and created the notion of "transparent beings" (the white spirits seen in some of the works on display). He influenced the New York School (Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell) with his automatic painting methods. But the war, the Holocaust and subsequent conditions in Latin America politicized him and transformed his iconography into a combination of surrealist, metaphysical forms, and machines and tormented human figures. It was a new mythology of humans turning on themselves and grieving for their many failures. Works shown from this period include Le photographe ("The Photographer," 1958) and Etre cible nous monde ("Our Earth is a Target," 1959).

Later, starting in the 1960s, Matta began to delve into Latin American history, with typical works of this period shown in Buenos Aires, including The Birth of America and the series El gran Burundún-Burundá ha muerto (a reference to regional dictatorships).

[rebelmouse-image 27089788 alt="""" original_size="302x416" expand=1]

Roberto Matta in the 1960s — Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The opening painting in the exhibit, influenced by automatic and surrealist techniques as well as Albert Einstein's ideas, combines Matta's lifelong artistic traits. It is The Day is an Attack and has everything that Matta's art represents — poetry, technique, playfulness, curiosity, sadness. It was painted during the war, but depicts a day, not a night.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

Why The 'Perfect Storm' Of Iran's Protests May Be Unstoppable

The latest round of anti-regime protests in Iran is different than other in the 40 years of the Islamic Republic: for its universality and boldness, the level of public fury and grief, and the role of women and social media. The target is not some policy or the economy, but the regime itself.

A woman holds a lock of her hair during a London rally to protest the murder of Mahsa Amini in London

Roshanak Astaraki

-Analysis-

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Tehran on Sept. 16, after a possible beating at a police station, has sparked outrage and mass protests in Iran and abroad. There have been demonstrations and a violent attempt to suppress them in more than 100 districts in every province of Iran.

These protests may look like others since 2017, and back even to 1999 — yet we may be facing an unprecedented turning point in Iranians' opposition to the Islamic Republic. Indeed newly installed conservative President Ibrahim Raisi could not have expected such momentum when he set off for a quick trip to New York and back for a meeting of the UN General Assembly.

For one of the mistakes of a regime that takes pride in dismissing the national traditions of Iran is to have overlooked the power of grief among our people.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ