Roberto Sebastián Antonio Matta Echaurren was born on November 11, 1911, in Santiago, Chile. After studying architecture at the Universidad Católica in Santiago, Matta went to Paris in 1934 to work as an apprentice to the architect Le Corbusier. By the mid-thirties be knew the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, Salvador Dalí and André Breton; in 1937 he left Le Corbusier’s atelier and joined the Surrealist movement. This same year Matta’s drawings were included in the Surrealist exhibition at Galerie Wildenstein in Paris. In 1938 he began painting with oils, executing a series of fantastic landscapes which be called “inscapes” or “psychic morphologies.”
Matta fled Europe for New York in 1939, where he associated with other Surrealist émigrés including Ernst, Tanguy, Masson and Breton. The Julien Levy Gallery in New York presented his first one-man show of paintings in 1940, and he was included in the Artists in Exile exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York in 1942. During the forties Matta’s painting anticipated many innovations of the Abstract expressionists and influenced many artists of the so-called New York School and in particular his friends, Gorky and Motherwell. He was considered, from the new artist generation, a leading figure of the contemporary painting. Towards the end of the war he evolved increasingly monstrous imagery; the appearance of mechanical forms and cinematic effects in Matta’s work reflects the influence of Duchamp, whom he met in 1944.
He broke with the Surrealists in 1948 and returned to Europe, settling in Rome in 1953. A mural for the UNESCO Building in Paris was executed by the artist in 1956. A major retrospective of his work was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1957, then presented at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston and at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. He exhibited at the São Paulo Bienal in 1962, in Berlin in 1970, end in Hannover in 1974. In 1990 the artist received the National Prize for Art in Chile, and a retrospective of his works was held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Santiago. Roberto Matta died in Civitavecchia, Rome, on November 23, 2002.