Roberto Sebastian Matta (Roberto Sebastian Antonio Matta Echaurren, Santiago de Chile 1911- Civitavecchia 2002).

Matta's life is like a novel: fond of art and women, he was a citizen of the world living between Chile, Paris, New York and Italy. Defining Matta's art would mean setting a limit to his contemporaneity. A modern Ulysses, as the artist used to describe himself for his desire to cross over new boundaries both geographic and experiential, he spoke many different languages, including Spanish, French, English and Italian, and mixed them together in a language all his own. Considering an academic biography, we could say that Matta was a great protagonist of the late Surrealism and that with his work he not only opened up the way to the American Abstract Expressionism, but he exercised - and still does - a considerable influence on contemporary artists.

 

After graduating in Architecture at the Catholic University of Santiago, he moved to Paris, working in the studio of Le Corbusier (1934) and during a holiday in Madrid, where he saw the creation of Guernica by Picasso, he met Federico Garcia Lorca, who put him in contact with Salvador Dalí. On Dalí's suggestion, he met Andre Breton, who immediately invited him to participate to Exposition International du Surréalisme in 1938 making him an official member of that movement. The same year he started to paint with oil colours, creating a series of imaginary landscapes that he defined as inscapes, inner landscapes, or morphologies psychologiques where he adopted a technique of automatism: patches on colour laid out on the canvas directing the line of the brush with a gestural improvisation that give shape to mental architectures, spaces beyond the visible and traditional perspective. Following the exodus of other artists, at the beginning of 1939 he moved to New York with Ann Clark, an American woman he got married with the year before. They had twins whose godfather was Marcel Duchamp. One of the two became one of the most influential innovators of the artistic scene in New York in the 1970s: Gordon Matta-Clark. In New York, Matta exhibited at the Julien Levy Gallery (his first solo show was in 1940), at the Pierre Matisse Gallery and at the famous Art of this Century of Peggy Guggenheim. His personal magnetism attracted soon the attention of the young artists of the so-called New York School. Among them Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning. Taking Matta's automatic gesture to extremes, this group broke with European tradition, giving birth to the first American movement: the Abstract Expressionism. During those year the need to see within oneself, according to the idea of inscape, was replaced by the need to "be with others" and this is how his social morphologies started with a return to figuration and social content.
Due to a supposed "liaison dangereuse" with Gorky's wife that led Gorky to commit suicide, Matta's relationships with the artists from New York got broken irreparably. Being rejected from the Surrealists, he moved to Rome (1949) where he met Angela Faranda, with whom he had his son Pablo in 1951, who is an artist too, known as Pablo Echaurren, among the protagonists of the countercultural movements in Italy.


In Rome, he associated with Afro, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Alberto Burri, Leoncillo, Renato Guttuso, Antonio Corpora, Giulio Turcato, Piero Dorazio, while in Milan, he met with the exponents of the spatialist movement, guided by Lucio Fontana. In these years he elaborated a vision of the "open cube", which allowed him to open up the reality to be represented like a cube, in order to show how what we perceive in the physical world is absorbed and contradicted by what we think. In the paintings made using this method, which was opposed to that of traditional perspective, he revealed the contradiction of appearances and the contrast between that which one sees and that which one thinks, opening the door to a new dimension. His aim was to create a new perspective, where the space of distances was replaced by the space of meaning. The other aim, besides this, was to paint humankind along with its problems and attribute the role of inventing new myths to the artist. In 1954 he moved again to Paris with his new companion, the American Malitte Pope, with whom he would have two children. In 1956 he was asked to realize a mural painting for the Unesco building in Paris and in 1957 the MoMA - Museum of Modern Art in New York organized a solo show. A narrator who worked through images and whose visionary iconography shifted between primitive and future cultures, science and myth, history and chronicle, Matta made cycles of large canvases expressing a cosmological epic, depicting the evolution of the species, the transformation of nature from the infinitely small cell to the infinitely large galaxy, as well as the contemporary world, with satirical aims or social condemnation. At the end of the 1960s, he met Germana Ferrari, with whom he had a daughter and he moved to London, and then again to Paris, and later in an old and uninhabited convent in Italy, close to Tarquinia.

 

In his later years, while his works were exhibited all over the world, Matta created not only canvases that were so large as to compete in size with movie screens, but he also developed his inclination toward being a total artist, working in artistic disciplines beyond painting: he created furniture, objects for everyday use and sculptures where the totemic world of primitive art, ancient Native American and Asian civilizations translated into anthropomorphic, hieratic and mechanical figurations.


During the second half of the Twentieth Century, Matta participated in exhibitions all over the world: from Europe to North and Latin America, and Asia too. Beside the important retrospective at the MoMa - Museum of Modern Art (1957), we have to mention the one at Centre Pompidou in Paris (1985). His works are conserved in important museums' collections, such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim and MoMa - Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate London, the Musee National d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Centre Pompidou.
The current auction record for Roberto Sebastian Matta was set for the work La révolte des contraires (1944) sold at Christie's in New York in May 2015 for USD 5 million.


Franco and Roberta Calarota, founders of Galleria d'Arte Maggiore g.a.m., established a close friendship and professional relationship with Matta when the artist moved to Italy at the end of 1970s. In an interesting text (included in the catalogue D. Eccher, F. Calarota, Matta: Roberto Sebastian Matta, Gordon Matta-Clark, Pablo Echaurren, Galleria d'Arte Maggiore g.a.m., Silvana Editoriale, 2013) Franco Calarota writes: «I met Roberto Sebastian Matta, Sebastian for his friends, a few years after he arrived in Italy and have fond memories of our long conversations at the "Bandita", a former monastery at the gates of Tarquinia, where the walls of his studio were hung with large works in progress and outside in the garden stood his sculptures, which had an Etruscan feel». Maggiore g.a.m. owns part of the estate of his work and has been organizing several exhibition from the 1980s in its venue in Bologna but also in institutional spaces like the show realized with the patronage of the Umbria region at Palazzo dei Sette in Orvieto (catalogue E. Mascelloni, M. Clarac-Seroux, Matta, Galleria d'Arte Maggiore g.a.m. 2002). In 2013 Franco Calarota realized Matta's dream to see his works exhibited together with the ones of his sons: Gordon Matta Clark, leading exponent of the contemporary American art, and Pablo Echaurren. This exhibition, realized with Galleria d'Arte Maggiore g.a.m. and curated by Danilo Eccher Matta: Roberto Sebastian Matta, Gordon Matta-Clark, Pablo Echaurren (catalogue Galleria d'Arte Maggiore g.a.m., Silvana Editoriale, 2013), was hosted on the occasion of the 55. Esposizione Internazionale di Arte - La Biennale di Venezia at Fondazione Querini Stampalia. The exhibited works could dialogue with each other since all the three artists share the visionary of the creative gesture and the social dimension of their work. In 2015 Galleria d'Arte Maggiore g.a.m. produced the official collateral event of the 56. Esposizione Internazionale di Arte - La Biennale di Venezia focused on the sculptures by Matta in the Garden of Palazzo Soranzo Cappello in Venice (F. Gualdoni, A. Calarota, Matta. Sculture, Galleria d'Arte Maggiore g.a.m. - Silvana Editoriale, 2015).