Roberto Matta
Chilean painter



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Roberto Matta
Chilean painter
Average: 5 (2 votes)

Date of Birth

November 11, 1911

Place of Birth

Santiago, Chile

Date of Death

November 23, 2002

Place of Death

Civitavecchia, Italy

Arty Fact

More about Roberto Matta

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Where Surrealism ends, Abstract Expressionism begins. In between lies the work of Roberto Matta.

Often referred to as the “last great surrealist painter,” Roberto Matta’s artistic roots began in his birth country of Chile. He came from a family of Basque origins, a small, isolated group within the greater Chilean landscape. When Matta abandoned his architectural studies under Le Corbusier in pursuit of art, founder of the Surrealist movement Andre Breton invited him to join his inner circle of artists and intellectuals. Developing an artistic practice within this group, including Marcel Duchamp, Yves Tanguy, and Giorgio de Chirico, Matta added some Latin flair to the movement. The Surrealist group is known for being a bit of a white, European man’s game, but Matta, as well as Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, successfully penetrated that white wall. Matta attributed his artistic and psychological independence within the Surrealists to his Basque background. His paintings speak in the language of a different reality born of his South American identity.

Surrealism started with Breton and friends hypnotizing each other and writing down everything the entranced person said. In doing so, they considered the poems they created “automatic writings.” That is, created “automatically,” without any intention of what the finished product will be. At the outbreak of World War II, Matta and many members of the Surrealist group fled France for New York, where his practice began to manifest into Abstract Expressionism with the New York School. Roberto Matta’s works embody the automatic practices at the heart of this movement. Matta’s methods of creating without consciously thinking about the end product influenced the New York School by making this its primary method of creation. Unconscious, compulsive, and autonomic behavior characterize automatic painting strategies, allowing the subconscious to manifest visually. Like throwing paint at the canvas or scraping it away with a palette knife. As Surrealist painting followed in the footsteps of poetry, so did Matta’s paintings. He used “poetic license” to change his birthday to 11/11/11. The influence of Pablo Neruda and Andre Breton brought about the thematic and automatist aspects of Matta’s work.

Though Matta's work as Surrealism ascends from the realm of time and space, it also heavily engaged with his Latin American heritage. Surrealists sought salvation from reality, and the isolation of the Basque peoples gave Matta this quality of intellectual independence and creative freedom. Pre-Columbian iconography and cosmology also comprise an important source of influence for Matta. He participated in the International Exposition of Surrealism in Mexico City, organized by Breton, which compared Surrealist works with indigenous objects, whereby Matta began collecting pre-Columbian objects. These New World myths and pre-Columbian iconographies follow in the Surrealist practice of appropriating foreign imagery, yet Matta’s interest in these types of imagery comes from a shared heritage with the objects. By combining pre-Columbian imagery with Surrealist techniques, Matta arrives at a syncretic art form, combining automatist practices with the cultural material of Latin America.



  1. "Automatism – Art Term." Tate Modern.
  2. Beckjord, Sarah. “Totems and Taboos Revisited: Roberto Matta and the New World Tradition.” In Matta: Making the Invisible Visible. Ed. Elizabeth Goizueta. University of Chicago Press, 2004.
  3. Goizueta, Elizabeth. “The Artist as Poet: Symbiosis between Narrative and Art in the Work of Matta.” In Matta: making the Visible Invisible. University of Chicago Press, 2004.
  4. Monahan, Thomas, Matta: On the Edge of a Dream
  5. Monahan, Thomas and Oksana Salamatina. “Matta, the Last Surrealist.” In Matta: On the Edge of a Dream. Chicago: Thomas Monahan, 2015.
  6. Smith, Elizabeth and Colette Dartnall. “Crushed Jewels, Air, Even Laughter: Matta in the 1940s.” In Matta in America: Paintings and Drawings of the 1940s. Museum of Contemporary Art, 2001.

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about Roberto Matta

Roberto Sebastián Antonio Matta Echaurren (Spanish pronunciation: [roˈβeɾto ˈmata]; November 11, 1911 – November 23, 2002), better known as Roberto Matta, was one of Chile's best-known painters and a seminal figure in 20th century abstract expressionist and surrealist art.


Matta was of Spanish, Basque and French descent. Born in Santiago, he studied architecture and interior design at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, and graduated in 1935. That spring, he journeyed from Peru to Panama and completed surreal drawings of many of the geographical features he witnessed. He first encountered Europe while serving in the Merchant Marine after graduating. His travels in Europe and the USA led him to meet artists such as Arshile Gorky, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, André Breton, and Le Corbusier.

It was Breton who provided the major spur to the Chilean's direction in art, encouraging his work and introducing him to the leading members of the Paris Surrealist movement. Matta produced illustrations and articles for Surrealist journals such as Minotaure. During this period he was introduced to the work of many prominent contemporary European artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp.

The first true flowering of Matta's own art came in 1938, when he moved from drawing to the oil painting for which he is best known. This period coincided with his emigration to the United States, where he lived until 1948. His early paintings, such as Invasion of the Night, give an indication of the work he would continue, with diffuse light patterns and bold lines on a featureless background. This is also the period of the "inscape" series, and the closely related "psychological morphologies". Prof. Claude Cernuschi (see Boston College Matta exhibition external link below) writes, "Matta's key ambition to represent and evoke the human psyche in visual form was filtered through the writings of Freud and the psychoanalytic view of the mind as a three-dimensional space: the 'inscape'." According to the essay on Matta in Crosscurrents of Modernism (see references below), the inscapes' evocative forms "are visual analogies for the artist's psyche" (p. 241). During the 1940s and 1950s, the disturbing state of world politics found reflection in Matta's work, with the canvases becoming busy with images of electrical machinery and distressed figures. The addition of clay to Matta's paintings in the early 1960s lent an added dimension to the distortions.

In his art Matta creates new dimensions in a blend of organic and cosmic lifeforms (see biomorphism). He was one of the first artists to take this abstract leap.

Matta's connections with Breton's surrealist movement were severed following a private disagreement concerning Arshile Gorky and his family. Matta was accused of indirectly causing Gorky's suicide (in response to Matta's relationship with the Armenian-American painter's wife). This led to his expulsion from the group, but by this time Matta's own name was becoming widely known. He divided his life between Europe and South America during the 1950s and 1960s, successfully combining the political and the semi-abstract in epic surreal canvases. Matta believed that art and poetry can change lives, and was very involved in the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. He was a strong supporter of the socialist government of president Salvador Allende in Chile. A 4x24 meter mural of his entitled The First Goal of the Chilean People, was painted over with 16 coats of paint by the military regime of Augusto Pinochet following their violent overthrow of Salvador Allende in 1973. In 2005 the mural was discovered by local officials. In 2008 the mural was completely restored at a cost of $43,000, and is displayed today in Santiago at the La Granja city hall.

Throughout his life, Matta worked with many different types of media, including ceramic, photography, and video production.

Matta died in Civitavecchia, Italy on 23 November 2002, eleven days after his 91st birthday.

Matta was married twice: his first wife was Patricia Matta Echaurren (née O'Connell), an American (who later married Pierre Matisse), and his second wife was Germana Ferrari. He is the father of six children. Two died prematurely, leaving his creative legacy to artists Gordon Matta-Clark and his twin brother Sebastian,Ramuntcho Matta, Federica Matta, designer Alisée and writer Pablo Echaurren, whose surname was wrongly recorded at birth.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Roberto Matta.