ROBERTO MATTA, Chilean (1911-2002), Untitled, 1965, oil on canvas, 78 x 149 1/4 inches
oil on canvas
signed with artist's monogram and dated "65" lower right
78 x 149 1/4 inches
Provenance: Acquired in Milan, Italy, ca. 1970 (before 1976); Private collection, Milan, Italy; by descent to Private Collection, Los Angeles, California.
Notes: A certificate of authenticity signed from Alisée Matta of the Matta Archives accompanies this lot.
Roberto Antonio Sebastian Matta Echaurren, known simply as "Matta," rose to fame with the European Surrealists. Matta was born in Santiago, Chile and studied architecture and interior design at the Sacre Coeur Jesuit College and the Universidad Catolica of Santiago. In 1933 he left Chile to join the Merchant Marines and moved to Paris in 1935.
In Paris, Matta worked with Le Corbusier for two years as an apprentice. He became friends with Latin American literary ex-patriots living in Paris, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, and Gabriela Mistral. Through Lorca, Matta was introduced to Salvador Dali and through Dali to Andre Breton. Breton invited Matta to officially join the Surrealist group in 1937.
That same year, at the Paris International Exhibition Matta saw Pablo Picasso's seminal work
Guernica (1937) and Marcel DuChamp's
Large Glass (The Bride Stripped Bare by Her bachelor's, Even) (1915-23). Both works impressed Matta, and their themes would emerge in Matta's mature style. By 1938, Matta transitioned from automatist crayon drawings to oil paintings.
In 1939, the looming war forced Matta to flee Europe and head to New York. There, he was the youngest of the Surrealist emigres. He became fast friends with the New York School artists, Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, William Baziotes, Peter Busa and Robert Motherwell. Likely influenced by Picasso's combination of abstraction and social engagement in
Guernica, Matta begin a series of "Social Morphologies" painted throughout the 1940s.
By this time, Matta was enjoying personal success as an artist, however, his use of figuration and narrative caused a rift between he and his artist friends in the Surrealist group and New York School of Abstract Expressionists. In 1948, Gorky committed suicide and many in the group blamed Matta who had been having an affair with Gorky's estranged wife. He was publicly expelled from the Surrealist group, and he returned to Europe in 1948.
The expulsion from the group freed Matta to pursue social and political themes, figuration, and narrative. He moved first to Italy and then kept residences in both Paris in Rome. In 1959, the Surrealists invited Matta back – an offer he declined. During the 1950s and 60s, Matta travelled extensively in Europe, Latin America, and Africa. He became more socially engaged believing art a powerful agent for social reform. He works from this period focus on the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the War in Algeria, and Socialist reforms in Latin America. Matta looked inward to create Surrealist compositions that explored the human psyche but also outward because he knew art could be a powerful agent for social change. In the 1960s Matta travelled to Cuba, Chile, and Nicaragua to meet artist-activists on the front lines of social reform and to engage with political movements.
At mid-century when the present lot was painted, Matta began to use biomorphic forms and tubular humanoids inspired by mythical totemic figures using pre-Columbian, Native American, and Oceanic sources. His works were rooted in reality but transformed using metaphor and subconscious to create dream-like parallel realities depicting the timeless struggles of humanity. In his art, he sought to depict a cosmic reality that transcended notions of time and space.
In the current work, painted in 1965, Matta's tubular, robotic humanoids with exaggerated reproductive organs are engaged in an orgy of sexual activity against an ominous grey backdrop to the right. At the center of the composition, a merged couple and a bright yellow egg seem to suggest fertility and the hope of a new generation. Thematically, the painting relates to a familiar subject in art history with numerous parallels to Hieronymus Bosch's
Garden of Earthly Delights, (1490-1500) (Museo Del Prado).
Matta's technique of sponging and wiping off thinned layers of pigment adds to the dreamlike visual effect. The large size of the canvas lends itself to this technique but also surrounds the viewer, inviting one into Matta's alternate universe.
In 1957, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York hosted a retrospective of Matta's work. More retrospectives followed at the National Gallery in Berlin (1970) and the Centre Pompidou (1985). His legacy is celebrated internationally especially in areas where he painted in the United States, Europe, and Latin America.
Framed dimensions: 80 x 150 x 2 inches
Tags: Oil painting, listed artist, Latin American Art, European / Italian, Modern / Contemporary
Condition: Please contact us for a condition report and additional photographs.
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