Roberto Sebastian Matta Echaurren, usually simply known as Matta, is one of Chile’s best-known painters. Born in Santiago on 11 November 1911, he was initially an interior decorator, but became disillusioned with this occupation and left for Europe in the mid 1930s. His travels led him to meet artists such as Rene Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Andre 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. Roberto Matta produced illustrations and articles in the surrealist journal 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. 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 Roberto Matta’s paintings in the early 1960s added a dimension to the distortions. Matta’s connections with Breton’s surrealist movement were severed when a private disagreement led to his expulsion from the group, but by this time his 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. Roberto Matta died in Civitavecchia, Italy, on 23 November 2002.