Roberto Antonio Sebastián Matta Echaurren

Roberto Antonio Sebastián Matta Echaurren

He is a Chilean painter- He was, born in Santiago on November 11, 1911 and died in Tarquinia, Italy in 2002.

The work of this notorious artist starts the thirties. He took part in Surrealism movement and promoted changes; he was an important person in the group of artists of abstract expressionism of the forties. He represents a valuable contribution to universal arts of this century, ranking as one of the most important artists of the surrealist movement.


At the beginning of his artistic work, his works showed his metaphysical concerns, the importance of religious creations. Figurative drawings that eventually evolved into abstraction, with reference to contemporary artists like Dali and Picasso and the influence of El Greco. Elements like humour, eroticism, introspection, thoughts, were present at the beginning.

He attended the School of the Sacred Hearts in Santiago and completed his studies at the School of architecture at the Catholic University of Chile, between 1929 and 1931, graduating in 1933.

In 1933 he became a marine merchant, and this allowed him to leave Santiago and travel to Europe, settling in Paris. He worked with the architect Le Corbusier. In late 1934 Matta visited Spain, meeting the poets Rafael Alberti and Federico García Lorca. The latter would introduce him to Dali, who encouraged him to show some of his drawings to André Breton.

Matta’s relationship with Dali and Breton strongly influenced his artistic education and subsequently connected him with the Surrealist movement, he officially joined in 1937.

In 1936 he travelled to London, where he worked with Walter Gropius and László Moholy-Nagy. He also met British artists and intellectuals like Henry Moore and became involved with them.

In 1937 Matta attended the exhibition of Picasso’s Guernica at Prado Museum, which greatly impressed him and influenced his work.

At this time, artists such as Marcel Duchamp, would influence the work of Matta. Later he travelled to Scandinavia where he met the architect Alvar Aalto.

The summer of 1938 marks the evolution of Matta’s work from drawing to painting. Roberto completed his first surrealist paintings in oil, which initially called “Psychological Morphology” and then “Inscape”. By 1939 he lived for a period with Pablo Neruda in Paris.

Forced to leave Europe due to the tension before World War II, Matta arrived in New York in early 1939. In an article by about the masters of Latin American painting, Kathy Zimmerer describes the  “Crucifixion” and the embracing bioforms that transform themselves  into a flow that crosses the entire canvas of Matta. The brightness of his palette, crimson red, yellow, blue and black define contours of organic forms, producing a metamorphosis. Crucifixion is representative of the non-figurative period of Matta, where the artist developed his range of colours and the use of colour to create spaces and energetic forms. Matta, by now begins the work of the visionary landscape of the subconscious. He took strength and learned from his mentor Yves Tanguy, with the works that recall the painters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Bosch Bruguel.

Roberto Matta first exhibited in Julian Levy Gallery in New York in 1940. The forties are associated with the entry of the human figure in his artistic composition.

In 1947, Matta keeps away from the surreal world. In the 50 and 60 he wanders between Rome, Paris and London. He visited Cuba in the 60s to work with art students. In 1962 he was awarded the Marzotto Prize for the play “La Question Djamilla”, a protest against the Franco-Algerian war.

His work from the 60s onwards had a political and spiritual emphasis. Much of his work was to discuss issues related to the events occurring in such places as Vietnam, Santo Domingo, and Alabama.

At an exhibition in 1968 at the Iolas gallery in New York  he exhibited part of this work.

The 60ies  marked not only a change in his themes, but also in style. He found influence in contemporary culture, combined with his surrealist roots. His work can be divided mainly into two areas: cosmic and apocalyptic paintings. “Elle s’y Gare” is an example of the cosmic arena. André Breton called it “absolute automatism”. The idea of automatism was a key element of the surrealist movement, which emphasized the suppression of conscious control for a control dominated by free composition of the images and unconscious associations. Matta used automatism in a manner that allowed a form to give rise to another one until unification was reached or until further elaboration destroyed the composition.

Matta left Chile when he was young and did not have the chance to be conceptualized as “Latin American” artist. He was certainly one of the few Surrealist artists to represent political, social, and spiritual issues directly.

In 1969 he acquired French nationality.

In 1990 he received the National Art Award and a retrospective of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts took place.

In the following years there were various exhibitions of the work of Matta in various parts of the world and the artist participated in numerous artistic events. He is considered the most important Chilean painter and sculptor in the world, due to its great pictorial influence in different countries.

Roberto Matta spent his last years in Italy, where he died in 2002.

Selected Images