Artwork in Focus is the second chapter of the gallery's 'In Focus' series. Every week the gallery presents a viewing room featuring artworks that are available for purchase. This week we are presenting two works on paper by Chilean artist Roberto Matta: To live from where I live, c. 1948, and Éléments de l'Univers, c. 1948. This viewing room is the final instalment of two presentations that explore Roberto Matta's practice.
As a member of the Surrealist group, Matta became extremely fascinated with Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, an interpretation of reality which wanted to surpass physical theories based on Euclidean geometry. Together with Freud, Matta considered the scientist to be a vital point of reference for the modern artist. In this climate, Matta started to conduct his own research on the topic, to create an account for the visual representation and interior of the fourth dimension (as elaborated by Einstein's Theory). This new tendency had already started to find expression in Matta's paintings from the late 1930s, and is strongly present in Matta's works on paper. This corpus can be considered as an instrumental body of work, on which the artist based his oeuvre on canvas.
Following the Surrealist tradition, Matta didn’t limit himself uniquely to the scientific descriptions of Einstein’s discovery to build his imagery. Besides the dialogue with other artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Gordon Onslow Ford, he nurtured his production using references to certain events of his time - such as the horrors of World War II - and concepts from the fields of occultism, philosophy and mysticism. This combination of elements from multidisciplinary backgrounds are coherently grouped in two drawings dated c. 1948: To live from where I live, and Éléments de l'Univers. Both works, realised in the year Matta left New York for Europe, are understood as two consecutive moments of the same scene, with the compositions revolving around a dominating, powerful energy field.
Roberto MATTA1911 – 2002To live from where I live, c. 1948Pencil and coloured pencils on paper
Titled lower left: To live from where I live29.4 x 37 cm
11 ⅝ x 14 ½ in
To live from where I live appears to illustrate a world that only the artist is privy to, as suggested by the title. The central section of the drawing is occupied by a spheric energy field, a portal to another world or dimension. The sphere is beginning to absorb and blend with the surrounding figures and objects: a melange of humans, totemic anthropomorphic figures, and green arrow shaped mineral elements. On the right hand side of the composition, next to a yellow structure, sits a mysterious figure with its legs crossed. With its unnaturally stretched arms, this character appears to have summoned the main energy field by keeping a smaller yellow spheric object suspended in levitation. The figure gives the impression of being a minister elected by its tribe to perform a shamanic rite, and evoke a new dimension with its supernatural powers. Across from the shaman, Matta places another architectural element, possibly to contain the spheric portal. A humanoid spider tops the structure, supervising the development of the event.
Roberto MATTA1911 – 2002Éléments de l'Univers, c. 1948Pencil and coloured pencils on paper29.3 x 39.8 cm
11 ½ x 15 ⅝ in
Éléments de l'Univers narrates a very similar, and perhaps connected scenario to that proposed in To live from where I live. The scene is represented at a different stage in which the levitating, spheric portal has opened. The passage has now materialised with a vortex of energy dragging coloured elements down a circular opening positioned on the ground. Most of the audience, that were quiet witness in To live from where I live, havenow mutated into colourful particles that are about to disappear, pulled by the strength of the centrifugal waves portrayed by Matta’s pencil marks. Other figures, possibly other shamanic ministers taking part to the rite, are trying to resist the current, holding on to what they can. Even the larger panel is about to disappear, as the viewer can the deduce from the inclination of its axis.
The two drawings are similar both in structural composition and are further coherent in their characteristics. In both works - which as we understand can be interpreted as two chronological sequences of the same event - Matta proves his artistic skill and ease in binding Surrealism to his very personal, original style. One key element of this successful combination is the choice of mixing monochromatic lines with flashes of colour to direct and capture the viewer’s eye, highlighting specific points of the composition. This specific formula presented Matta with the path to succeed both personally, and professionally as a Surrealist artist, merging art, architecture and science to generate the visual account of a brand new world.
Biography & collections
Roberto Antonio Sebastián Matta Echaurren was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1911. After studying architecture at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, in Santiago, Matta moved to Europe in 1933. In Paris he took a position as a draftsman in the architectural studio of Le Corbusier in Paris, which he held until 1937. During this time, while travelling in Spain and Portugal, the artist was introduced to the poets Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda. Through them, Matta became familiar with Surrealism and after meeting Salvador Dalí and André Breton, he joined the movement in the same year. In 1939 Matta moved to the United States. In New York, he started to form relationships with the new generation of painters which included artists such as Arshile Gorky, Robert Motherwell, and Jackson Pollock - with whom Matta experimented using techniques inspired by automatic writing. Matta remained in New York for almost a decade, and there established himself as one of the most influential artists of his time - which is confirmed by the exhibitions held throughout the 1940s at the Julien Levy Gallery, at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century and later in the 1957 exhibition at MoMA, curated by William Rubin. In 1948 Matta returned to Paris, and for the following decades he lived and worked between South America and Europe, until he died in 2002 in Civitavecchia, Italy.
Today his works are held in many major collections around the world, including: Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and the Tate Gallery in London.
Artwork in Focus: Two works by Roberto Matta (Part Two): To live from where I live, c. 1948 and Éléments de l'Univers, c. 1948