Roberto Sebastián Antonio Matta Echaurren (November 11, 1911 – November 23, 2002), better known as Roberto Matta, was one of Chile's best-known painters and a seminal figure in 20th century abstract expressionist and surrealist art. Born in Santiago, he studied architecture and interior design. His travels in Europe and the United States, during his military service, led him to befriend artists such as Arshile Gorky, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, André Breton, and Le Corbusier. It was Andre Breton who was the biggest champion of his work and introduced him to the leading members of the Paris Surrealist movement.
As he matured and developed his own style, Matta blended abstraction, figuration, and multi-dimensional spaces into complex, cosmic landscapes inhabited by anthropomorphic figures. Matta's exploration of the unconscious mind through a symbolic language of abstract forms greatly influenced the early development Abstract Expressionism.
Matta's connections with Breton's surrealist movement were severed following a private disagreement concerning Arshile Gorky. He was accused of indirectly causing Gorky's suicide, due to an affair with Gorky's wife. This led to his formal expulsion from the group, and Matta further broke with the conventions of the Surrealist movement by incorporating deliberate elements of social and political awareness to his work. Matta strongly believed that art could shape the landscape of our existence, and was very involved in the socialist movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
Beginning in the 1990s, Matta worked on a series of etchings, leading up to his final work, La Source Du Calm (2002). These carborundum etchings are works of masterful control, exuberant with color and inventiveness. Although more joyful than many of his earlier works, they continue the exploration of sexual themes, engaging and exploring the female/male dichotomy. Both the ever-present humanoid figures and fantastical science-fiction domain consistent in Matta’s work are noticeably present.
From his apocalyptic visions of the 1940s to his politically satirical work of the 1960s and 70s, Matta continuously pushed boundaries; the certainty of structures, the hazy division between internal and external worlds, the activist role of the artist, and at its core, the physical process of painting. As a bridge between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, Matta is often characterized as a cultural catalyst; and with artists such as Motherwell, Pollock and Baziotes citing him as inspiration, Roberto Matta was undeniably a seminal contributor to modern art.