“Matta created poetic symbols—morphological elements that came straight from a biomorphic level of the subconscious”
Matta, The Fall (Autoritratto d’ognuno), 1991. Oil and acrylic on canvas
10′ 3-1/2″ x 17′ 1-5/8″ (313.7 cm x 522.3 cm). Artwork by Roberto Sebastián Antonio Matta Echaurren © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo Credit: G. R. Christmas / Courtesy The Pace Gallery.
Matta: A Centennial Celebration
By Valery Oisteanu
Roberto Sebastian Antonio Matta Erchaurren surprises us once more by the grandeur of his massive works and his ability to “orchestrate the entire cosmos” on large canvases.
It’s all on view at the Pace Gallery in a Centennial Celebration that focuses on the artist’s later years and features 14 paintings, many of which have never been seen before outside of Europe, and the largest of which measures 27 x 13 feet.
Case in point: Architecture du temps (1999) is a wall-size abstract-expressionist work of cathedral-like majesty that displays a nostalgia with architectural design, a layered cosmic view of the universe featuring aerial perspectives, docking space stations and UFO’s, and a layer of gestural “action-painting” like splatters and drippings suggesting white smog. Matta looked to the future from atop a tall ladder and discovered the kind of psychedelic science-fiction dream that only a contemporary shaman could navigate, and then charted the “topography of the mind”.
Matta was interested in new architecture when he first came to Paris in 1934, and while working for Le Corbusier he met with the likes of Gropius, Moholy-Nagy, Duchamp, Magritte and Moore. At his aunt’s house in Madrid he also met Pablo Neruda and Salvador Dali, along with Federico Garcia Lorca, whose assassination two years later greatly disturbed him, causing him to write a script that displayed his leftist sensibilities.
His artistic revelation, and transition from architect to artist came while working on the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1937. It was there that he saw Picasso’s Guernica
and decided to devote himself solely to art. He showed his drawings to a friend, Gordon Onslow-Ford who in turn was so inspired that he followed in Matta’s innovative footsteps.
By 1938, Matta was a regular at the Café Deux Magots with Dali and Breton—the latter bought his first two drawings. It was around this time that Matta’s first completed oil painting was reproduced in the now legendary magazine Minotaure.
Installation view of Matta: A Centennial Celebration. Artwork by Roberto Sébastian Antonio Matta Echaurren © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo Credit: G. R. Christmas / Courtesy The Pace Gallery
Soon after his induction into the Surrealist group, Matta left for the U.S. on the same boat as Yves Tanguy, settling in New York City for almost a decade, where his work was repeatedly exhibited. He became an ambassador for Surrealism; he was one of the few Surrealists who spoke English and became an integral feature of the movement in America, translating other Surrealists’ work such as Breton’s manifesto which dealt with “the omnipotence of the dream and the disinterested play of thought” unhindered by convention; in other words, “pure psychic automatism.”
In 1941 on a visit to Mexico, Matta was exposed to the large murals of Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros with their elements of mystical, political and cosmic nature. During the following decade he had a serious impact on the abstract expressionists—Jackson Pollock, Peter Busa, Gerome Komarovski, William Baziotes and especially Arshile Gorky.
Matta created poetic symbols—morphological elements that came straight from a biomorphic level of the subconscious—that translated into a recognizable iconography of the future. His creative improvisational style and exuberance led artists such as Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko to explore, often in Matta’s studio, the possibilities of automatism in the form of spillages, poured paintings and non-literary painting-poetry with an anthropomorphic narrative.
Until his death at age 91, Matta continued to plumb the depth of mind expansion, encompassing a territory from the origin of life in the oceans—Mar de Madres (1989)—to the outer reaches of the galaxy. In an essay in the catalogue accompanying the show, Justin Spring explains the working technique: ”Just as in a dream a certain rationality and temporality exists, so too it exists in Matta’s paintings, for they are built-up works using various washes of color, fallowed by a rough application of thicker paint—sometimes poured—which is then overlaid with virtuosic drawing in paint.”
Large canvases became Matta’s signature; their vibrant three-dimensionality embodies the essence of his work—an expressive use of color and a skill at manipulating forms. The late works are the most elaborate and probably the most important works, done by a master whose hand remained steady throughout, his vision of micro and macro cosmos unparalleled.
This exhibit re-examines and re-establishes Matta’s rightful position as a pioneer and major figure in the Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist movement and perhaps a Duchampian Avant-God.