Étoilage des Forçes, 1995 signed, titled, inscribed and dated '95/36 "Etoilage des Forçes' (on the reverse) mixed media on canvas 69 x 79in. (175.2 x 200.6cm)
PROVENANCE: Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco. Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2003.
"Painting has one foot in architecture, one foot in the dream." (Roberto Matta)
Roberto Matta was born in 1911 in Santiago, Chile where he initially studied architecture. After completing his degree the young Matta traveled to Paris where he would soon make the most important introduction of his life. For two years, Matta was lucky enough to work in the studio of the renowned architect and painter, Le Corbusier. Speaking about his time in Le Corbusier's employ, Matta noted, "I went mad in Corbu's studio. There were three of us, an Austrian, a Japanese and me. The office was run by his cousin, Jeanneret, who was loaned by the Jesuit monastery. We had no work and were not paid, obviously. Since there was nothing to do, I produced the mad [architectural] propositions that are represented in my drawings of that time. What was good in the long run is that all of this early material has remained more or less hidden. If I had become fashionable or fallen into the media, I would have continued working on these drawings. Since there was a silence about my work, I have never stopped working. I have worked a great deal. You cannot imagine it. There are rolls of unfinished things all over here. Sometimes I find things, propositions about space, and I ask myself: 'Ah, what was that?'" (Matta quoted in coversation with H. Ulrich Obrist, 1 April 2003, reproduced at http://www.tate.org.uk).
The investigations into space that Matta had begun while working at Corbusier's studio served as a fundamental building block for the more Surrealist compositions that would come to identify his larger body of works throughout his entire career. Another crucial introduction occurred just a few years later when while visiting his aunt in Madrid in 1936, where he was fortunate to meet the great poets Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca, who in turn introduced Matta to the Surrealist founders and proponents, Saldvador Dalí and André Breton. The latter was so impressed with Matta's drawings that he was invited to join to the Surrealist group in 1937 and was included in the 1939 International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris. His early association with the Surrealists provided a much-needed impetus to create his own signature visual language and style. The early works, particularly the Inscape and Psychological Morphology series, acted as investigations into themes of cosmic creation and destruction.
In fact, these themes were at the time very apropos considering the pending outbreak of the Second World War. In 1939, Matta lived in perpetual exile, which interestingly had yet another fortunate affect on the artist. Alongside Max Ernst, Matta would come to work with Peggy Guggemheim's Art of the Century Gallery, which in turn exposed the artist to the then emerging group of Abstract Expressionist painters. These new influences and experiences he gained from his stint in New York added a new dynamism to his work, where machine-like and invertebrate shapes would interact with each other in highly charged cosmic spaces. With World War II over and Europe in recovery, Matta returned to Paris by way of Rome in 1954.
As the years went on, Matta would begin to disassociate himself from the formalities of the Surrealists and continue to develop his style and visual lexicon as the political, scientific and social world changed around him. One particular field that piqued his interest in the 1940s and 50s was the world of mathematics and advancements in technology. Throughout this period and continuing on to the end of his career, his paintings would come to include a sort of narrative, weaving a story of human interaction in this ever-changing world.
As William Rubin remarked about the artistic developments that had occurred following the great strain, hardship and horror of the Second World War, "periods of great anxiety and tension have often been marked by the emergence of visionary painters. Amid the uneasy revelations of our scientific age many familiar social, spiritual and artistic concepts seem exhausted, and a widespread feeling persists that their elaboration can no longer substitute for fresh ideas. It is in this context that the Surrealist and allied painters of the last thirty years have sought to discover a new picture of ourselves and of our universe which might help to resolve the contemporary conflict of values. The unique vision of Matta is the most recent and, in its cosmic focus, the most far reaching that this manner of paintings has proposed." (W. Rubin, Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, vol. 25, New York 1957).