Birthday: November 11, 1911
Died At Age: 91
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Also Known As: Roberto Sebastián Antonio Matta Echaurren, Roberto Sebastián Matta Echaurren
Born in: Santiago
Famous as: Surrealist Painter
Spouse/Ex-: Anne Clark
children: Gordon Matta-Clark, Ramuntcho Matta, Sebastian Matta
Died on: November 23, 2002
place of death: Civitavecchia
City: Santiago, Chile
education: Pontifical Catholic University of Chile
awards: Praemium Imperiale
Who was Roberto Matta?
Roberto Matta was one of the best-known painters from Chile. Though an architect by profession, he began painting in early 1930s while working as draughtsman in Paris and switched to surrealism by the middle of the decade. Initially, he called his surrealist paintings ‘psychological morphologies’. Later he changed the name to ‘inscape’ because he believed that his paintings were actually the landscape of his inner mind. However, he was never isolated from his surroundings. The Second World War and the subsequent political disturbances affected him so much that in 1950s and 1960s, his canvas began to be filled with paintings of distressed figures and machineries. At the same time, he was highly innovative. For example, in early 1960s he often used clay to give a new dimension to his paintings. A prolific worker, Roberto Matta kept on working almost till his death in 2002. His two major works, ‘Chaosmos’, installed in Viersen Sculpture Collection in Germany and his last painting ‘La Dulce Acqua Vita and La Source du Calme’ were completed in that very year.
Childhood & Early Life
Roberto Matta was born on November 11, 1911 in Santiago, Chile, into a family of Basque, Spanish and French descent. His father, Don Roberto Matta Echaurren, was a well to do landowner. His mother’s name was Mercedes Yanez.
Roberto demonstrated a flair for creativity from an early age. He often built stages, complete with curtains and backdrops and gathered his cousins to perform on it. Realizing his artistic talents, his parents encouraged him to study architecture.
Roberto had his early education at French Jesuit College of the Sacred Heart. Next, he enrolled at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, where he studied architecture and interior designing. He passed out from there in 1931 with a degree in architecture.
After completing his studies, Roberto spent some time travelling from Peru to Panama, making innumerable sketches of what he saw. Finally, he travelled to England as a merchant marine. From there, he went to Paris.
Roberto reached Paris in 1933. There he took employment under the renowned architect and city planner Le Corbusier. During the course of his service, he came in contact with many renowned painters and their works. He soon began to gather interest in painting. Initially, his works were mainly figurative.
In 1936, he left his job and travelled first to England and then to Spain. In Spain, he befriended surrealist writers Federico Garcia Lorca and Pablo Neruda and also met painter Salvador Dali. Through Dali, he met André Breton. Their works greatly influenced Roberto and he began to realize that reality is something more than what meets the eye.
Among the four, Roberto was especially influenced by André Breton, who is said to be the founder of surrealism. He not only provided him with a direction in his art, but also introduced him to the leading members of surrealist movement in Paris.
On coming back to Paris, Roberto Matta took up the job of a draftsman once more. At the same time, he produced illustrations and articles for Minotaure, a surrealist journal founded by Albert Skira and edited by André Breton. These works helped him to gain recognition in the artistic circle in Paris
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Matta’s career as a surrealist painter took off from 1938. This was the year when he switched to oil painting and took part in the International Exhibition of Surrealism, held at Beaux Art Gallery in Paris.
In 1939, Matta migrated to the United States of America. There he chose New York as his base and got acquainted with many budding artists like Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Arshile Gorky, introducing them to his technique of ‘automatic painting’, which in later years gave rise to Abstract Expressionism.
In 1940, Matta held his first solo exhibition in New York at Julien Levy Gallery. In 1941, he created his famous painting, ‘Invasion of the Night’. It gave an insight into his future works. In 1942, his works were displayed in ‘Artist in Exile’, an exhibition held at the Pierre Matisse Gallery.
On coming back to Paris in 1948, Matta found his friends less welcoming. It is believed that Matta had an affair with painter Ashile Gorky’s wife Mougouch. When Gorky committed suicide in July 1948, most surrealist artists, including André Breton, blamed it on this affair and consequently, expelled him from the group.
However, the incident had little effect on his career. By this time, he had become quite famous and his works now reflected the sense of dislocation and anxiety of post-World War II period. Yet, he left Paris in 1950 and went to live in Rome.
Roberto Matta came back to Paris in 1954 and continued with his paintings. In 1956, he was commissioned to create a large mural in the UNESCO building in Paris.
The next year in 1957, he had a major retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He had similar exposition at Stockholm in 1958, at Brussels in 1963 and at Berlin in 1970.
He did not live permanently in Paris any more. In 1950s and 1960s, he divided his time between Europe and South America. From 1960s, he began to devote more time to social and as well as political activism and his works reflected his political views through surrealism.
In 1968, Roberto Matta attended Havana Cultural Congress on the invitation of Cuba. Here he talked about art and revolution. Next in 1971, he went back to Chile for a short period.
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He created A 4 x 24 meter mural entitled ‘The First Goal of the Chilean People’ in honor of the socialist reform in Chile under Salvador Allende. Although the mural was covered with 16 coats of paint during the subsequent military regime of Auguste Pinochet, it has now been restored at the cost of $43,000.
Awards & Achievements
In 1995, Roberto Matta received Praemium Imperiale awards by Imperial Family of Japan on behalf of Japan Art Association for his outstanding contribution to the development of art.
In 1972, Matta was voted one of the world's 10 greatest living painters. The result of this poll was published in the French magazine Connaissance des Arts.
Personal Life & Legacy
Roberto Matta first married Patricia Echaurren. The couple had a son named Pablo. Patricia left him for Pierre Matisse, son of the famed artist Henri Matisse.
He then married American artist Anne Clark. They had twin sons, Sebastian and Gordon Matta-Clark. While Gordon grew up to be a well-known artist, Sebastian died early in life.
After his marriage to Anne Clark was annulled, Matta married for the third time. The marriage produced two children; Federica and Ramuntcho Matta. While Federica became a well known artist Ramuntcho established himself as a director..
Matta’s fourth and last marriage was to Gemana Ferrari, which lasted till his death. They had only one daughter named Alisée. She later became a well-known designer.
In his last years, Matta settled at Tarquinia, a town in Lazio region, 80 km north of Rome. There he set up a studio, gallery and school of pottery and in spite of his age, led an active life.
Just few weeks before his death, he traveled to Rome and attended the opening of an exhibition of 50 of his most recent paintings and sculptures.
Roberto Matta died in a hospital in Civitavecchia, a township located close to his home in Tarquinia, on November 23, 2002. On his death, a three day national mourning was declared in Chile.