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Roberto Matta Photo

Roberto Matta

Chilean Painter

Born: November 11, 1911 - Santiago, Chile
Died: November 23, 2002 - Civitavecchia, Italy
Movements and Styles:
"Everything in this painting is psychological .. How to picture the battlefield, not the physical one, but the one inside of us: fear against courage, criticism, and hate, suspicion and trust? An internal bombardment."
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Roberto Matta Signature
"I am interested only in the unknown and I work for my own astonishment."
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Roberto Matta Signature
"I was interested in other spaces to do with forms drawn from non-Euclidean geometry and the idea of entering these spaces. These structures do not rely on the sense of space, as we know it. It is a space without limits and which transforms itself in time - a mutant space."
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Roberto Matta Signature
"Resistance is in each of us. We resist by exercising our creativity. That is true poetry - when we seek new comparisons, other ways of looking and conceiving of things."
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Roberto Matta Signature
"I am very interested in chance. For me it is best of things .. Chance rolls on and never stops. It is like the random button on a CD player. The numbers continually roll over and do not stop, as if they are caught in a sphere. They turn and turn and then stop by chance on a track. We are like these numbers. We are rocked and bombarded from above and below, from right and left. We are a target and bombarded on all sides "
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Roberto Matta Signature

Summary of Roberto Matta

Chilean-born artist Roberto Matta was an international figure whose worldview represented a synthesis of European, American, and Latin American cultures. As a member of the Surrealist movement and an early mentor to several Abstract Expressionists, Matta broke with both groups to pursue a highly personal artistic vision. His mature work blended abstraction, figuration, and multi-dimensional spaces into complex, cosmic landscapes. Matta's long and prolific career was defined by a strong social conscience and an intense exploration of his internal and external worlds.


  • Matta broke with the conventions of the Surrealist movement by adding a dimension of social and political awareness to his work.
  • Matta often supplemented an aesthetic of pure abstraction with elements of figuration and precisely rendered, though fantastically conceived, three-dimensional space.
  • Matta's exploration of the unconscious mind through a symbolic language of abstract forms greatly influenced the early development Abstract Expressionism.

Biography of Roberto Matta

Roberto Matta Photo

Known primarily as 'Matta,' Roberto Antonio Sebastian Matta Echaurren was born in Santiago, Chile on November 11th, 1912. The son of a Chilean father and a Spanish mother, Matta grew up in a strictly Catholic, upper middle-class home. His mother was well read and highly cultured, fostering Matta's interest in art, literature, and languages. He received a classical, Jesuit education, and enjoyed a comfortable childhood during a period of widespread economic hardship in Chile.

Important Art by Roberto Matta

Progression of Art


Cruxificion marks not only Matta's first foray into oil painting, but also the start of what he called his Psychological Morphologies. While it has been suggested that the main forms in this painting represent Jesus and Mary, what is most striking about this work is its abstraction. The painting was created using the Surrealist practice of automatism. Matta utilized this technique as a means to depict a constantly transforming, multi-dimensional time and space. He believed that this allowed for a vision of reality that existed beyond the limits of normal human perception.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection


The Earth is a Man

Matta produced The Earth is a Man after being greatly affected by the dramatic landscape during a trip through Mexico in 1941. The painting depicts the earth as a volatile and constantly evolving space. The composition is dominated by what appears to be either an exploding sun or erupting volcano in the left center of the piece. For Matta, this symbolized a personal outpouring of emotions and ideas. Volcanoes also appeared in several other works from this period, such as Invasion of the Night (1941) and Ecouter vivre (1941). Interestingly, The Earth is a Man shares its name with an epic poem Matta composed in 1936 to commemorate Frederico Garcia Lorca's violent death.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection, Chicago


Being With (Etre Avec)

As one of Matta's "Social Morphology" paintings, Being With (Etre Avec) represents a direct response to the horrors of the Second World War. Matta's deep-seated dismay finds expression in the menacing mechanical contraptions and the contorted, violently violated humanoid forms that populate the painting. The figures here are reminiscent of both totemic art and Alberto Giacometti's sculptures. Furthermore, the influence of the contemporary Mexican muralists can be seen in this work's increased scale, at 87 x 180 inches, and Matta's explicit engagement with social issues.

Oil on canvas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Etre Cible Nous Monde

Exemplery of Matta's work from the mid1950s, Etre Cible Nous Monde shows a cosmic landscape dominated by a fantastical machine highly reminiscent of Duchamp's The Large Glass .. (1915-1923). The imagery and title of the painting (loosely translated as, "Our Earth is a Target") hint at the paranoia and fear associated the atomic age, exacerbated by the Cold War and the Space Race. These fears were intensified by Russia's launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection, Geneva


The First Goal of the Chilean People

Matta was dedicated to the notion of fostering an artistic and social renaissance in Latin America, particularly in his native Chile. He painted the massive, cartoon-like wall mural, The First Goal of the Chilean People, in honor of the 1970 political victory of Socialist president Salvador Allende. When military dictator Augusto Pinochet took power in 1973, he had the work covered in sixteen coats of paint. It was thought that the mural was lost forever until local officials uncovered it in 2005 and took three years to restore it.

Wall mural - La Granja City Hall, La Granja, Chile


La Source du Calme (The Source of Calm)

La Source du Calme (The Source of Calm) was Matta's final composition before his death. Like much of his later work, this print exhibits brighter colors, softer forms, simplified figures and an overtly spiritual mindset. This turn to more mystical and mythological themes echoes similar sentiments expressed by authors of the Latin American literary renaissance, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Significantly, it also represents a return to the themes of past Latin American authors, such as Garcia Lorca, with whom Matta was closely involved.

Carborundum etching on hand-made paper - RoGallery, Long Island City, NY

Similar Art

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Roberto Matta
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
  • André Breton
    André Breton
  • Frederico Garcia Lorca
    Frederico Garcia Lorca
  • Gabriela Mistral
    Gabriela Mistral
  • Jules Henri Poincare
    Jules Henri Poincare
  • P.D. Ouspensky
    P.D. Ouspensky
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by David Kupperberg

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Roberto Matta Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by David Kupperberg
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 05 Dec 2013. Updated and modified regularly
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