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Mon Nov 25 10:37:22 MST 2002
NY Times, Nov. 25, 2002
Matta, Chilean Artist of the Surrealist Movement, Is Dead
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
Roberto Sebastián Antonio Matta Echaurren, known as Matta, whose
sometimes nightmarish, hallucinatory paintings made him a premier
Surrealist and major artist of the mid-20th century, died on Saturday in
Tarquinia, Italy. He was 90 or 91.
In later years he split his time among Paris, London, Milan and
Tarquinia. Born in Chile, he spent much of his life in France and,
beginning in 1939, nearly a decade in the United States, where he
influenced the development of the New York School. The French saw him as
a central member and the last great survivor of the circle around André
Breton. His reputation in Europe and South America was always greater
than it was in the United States.
Like Breton and other Surrealists, Matta embraced the idea of automatic
drawing, or working as spontaneously as possible and as much as possible
without forethought, which was purported to be a way of tapping the
unconscious. He described his own paintings as "the subconscious in its
burning, liquid state; a conscious daytime substitution of the
phenomenon of dreams."
His early Surrealist works, from the late 1930's and early 40's, were
meant to suggest primordial upheaval: he painted gelatinous landscapes
and cosmic spaces filled with eerie organic shapes in off-key,
After World War II, these sorts of images gave way to a different but no
less fantastical variety: he populated canvases with robotic, mutant
creatures that sometimes seemed to be responses to the war. Painting
figures when abstraction was increasingly in vogue drew criticism in the
United States, but he said the figures were necessary to express man's
inhumanity to man. "He sought to send a message to other artists to
inspire them also to deal directly with these kinds of difficult
issues," Elizabeth Smith, a curator of a recent Matta retrospective, said.
Matta, an articulate, energetic, famously difficult man, gave his birth
date as 11/11/11, although it was also said that he was born in 1912. He
came from a prestigious family of Basque origin that included diplomats
and a former president. He rebelled against his strict Roman Catholic
upbringing once he became a student at Universidad Católica in Santiago,
studying with Hernán Gazmuri, a painter whose anticlerical beliefs
deeply affected Matta.
In 1935 he left Chile for Paris, where so many ambitious young artists
went to make their careers. For a while he worked in the architectural
studio of Le Corbusier. He also traveled, and at his aunt's house in
Madrid he met the poets Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda. García
Lorca's assassination in the Spanish Civil War greatly disturbed Matta,
and he responded by composing a fantastical film script (no film was
ever produced) that announced his leftist sensibilities.
Later, during the 60's, Matta became an ardent, outspoken supporter of
Chile's Socialist president, Salvador Allende Gossens; when the dictator
Augusto Pinochet took charge of the country, Matta became persona non
grata there. He learned that Pinochet had put him on a "hit list" and
for a while surrounded himself with bodyguards. It was then that he
decided to become a French citizen. He had been blacklisted as a
communist in the United States during the 1950's, and although that did
not prevent him from visiting the country, he had difficulty obtaining
an entry visa as late as the 1980's.
sample of Matta's work:
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