Star Travel, 1938

crayon and pencil on paper

19 3/4 x 25 1/2 inches


by Kathy Zimmerer

(Latin American Masters, Beverly Hills) In a stunning retrospective of Roberto Matta's fluid drawings and paintings from 1936 to 1959, his preoccupation with the terrain of the subconscious and nature's shifting microcosms are closely interwoven. During the 1940s in New York, Matta's Surrealist visions provided much of the connective tissue linking the Surrealist exiles with the burgeoning School of Abstract Expressionism.


Known for his compelling, dream-like rendering of space, Matta was born in Chile in 1912. Originally he was trained in his native country as an architect and interior designer. He left for Paris in 1932 to work as a draftsman in the Paris studio of Le Corbousier. Through a letter of introduction from Frederico Garcia Lorca he met Salvador Dali, who suggested he show his drawings to Andre Breton. Matta joined the Surrealists in 1937, and exhibited in the major international Surrealist exhibit that opened in Paris in 1938. Because of the ominous threat of war, Matta left for New York in 1938--and produced his strongest works ever. Although a relative latecomer to Surrealism, Matta's eerie depictions of inner space highly influenced pivotal Abstract Expressionist painters such as Arshile Gorky and Robert Motherwell.


Matta's magnificent drawings are noteworthy for their intricacy of line and the ambiguity of space. In a drawing from 1937, Matta's imagery evokes the inner working of the body as veins and organs appear to pulse with blood. In Star Travel [1938] the lines curve through space like an organic roller coaster, with whirling stars acting as biomorphic finials.


Another Untitled drawing of the same year represents delicately crumpled lines randomly highlighted by vivid primary colors. Clusters of energized linear activity outlined in black and royal blue circulate in a drawing of 1943, the lines appearing to weave in and out in a complicated rhythmic dance. Many influences are clear in these works, ranging from Miro's biomorphic creatures to the Surrealist theory of automatism. Yet Matta created an inner reality using his formal elements in a way unique to himself.


Matta's glowing paintings evolved from his drawings during the summer of 1938, when he worked with Gordon Onslow Ford in Brittany. One of his first paintings, Crucifiction [1938] represents the artist at the height of his powers. As evolving biomorphic forms mutate and flow across the surface of the canvas, Matta's fluid realm of space cushions their journey. His luminous palette of deep crimson, yellow, blue and black, defines and outlines the organic forms as they undergo metamorphoses.


Also beautiful is the shimmering Foeu [1941]. As organic forms in gleaming yellow and black hover in Matta's liquid space, the whole is balanced out by delicately connected disks oddly reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp's mechanical contraptions in The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. Also noteworthy among the paintings is a 1952 canvas that evokes the entangled underwater world of spiky crustaceans and pearlescent sea anemones.


As always, Matta's vision is a free flowing tribute to the ambiguities of the subconscious mind and to the complex web of the cosmos. The meandering beauty of his line makes his drawing a pleasure to behold. His paintings are replete with glowing colors and a biomorphic fluidity. All of his works transform and change with meditative viewing, revealing the rich inner life of a Surrealist artist immersed in the poetry of line, space, color and motion.

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