Featured Artist: Roberto Matta

I dread it when I tell people that I am an artist and they ask me who my favorite artist is.  I don't have many favorites in life -- I'm either too enamored by multiple things or too indecisive -- and I certainly could never have just one favorite artist.  That's like having one favorite band or one favorite food - impossible! But I do have artists who influence my work. One of these is Chilean artist Roberto Matta Echaurren (most commonly known by his first two names only), who was an artist prominent in the 1940s and '50s.  When I first saw one of his paintings in the San Francisco MOMA back in 2006, I immediately fell in love.  I didn't know anything about him or his work, but that painting, Invasion of the Night, was enough: Roberto Matta: Invasion of the Night, 1941 Invasion of the Night, 1941

I was taken with the colors, with the depth, the creation of this whole world that seemed somewhat familiar yet so alien.  It seemed amazing that someone would be making something this weird and abstracted in 1941, yet it felt so contemporary.  Above all that the technique is what really got me.  I couldn't figure out how he had created the thin, wash-like yet cloudy layers of paint that make the shapes more bulbous, add shadow and depth, or make something appear see-through. So I did some research and found out that at least one of his techniques was to wipe away the paint (subtractive glazing, if you will).  I have experimented with this and it is fun and sometimes effective, but also more difficult then it looks!

Unfortunately Matta's work is surprisingly difficult to find - it's hard to find good reproductions of more than just a handful of his work, which is such a shame because having bought a book with plates of his work I feel like everyone who does a Google search of his work is missing out on some gems. I feel like this is indicative of how overlooked Matta has been, despite his work being so influential and important for both Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism.  I am particularly drawn to his work from the 1940s, when he was hanging out in New York with a bunch of other Surrealists exiled from Europe, including one of my favorites, Yves Tanguy.  Matta's work differed in that while they created landscape-based pieces, he was creating what he described as "inscapes". In other words, he used "'psychological morphology,' a fusion of the psychic and the physical that refers to the idea of interior landscape" (from an essay by Elizabeth A.T. Smith and Collette Dartnall in Matta in America).

The Earth is a Man, 1941-42

The artist himself puts it nicely: "Painting has one foot in architecture, one foot in the dream."  That is certainly something I am interested in exploring in my own work, albeit in a stylistically different way. Being inspired by an artist doesn't mean that my work has to look like his/hers; rather, as Max Ernst says, "Art is not made by one artist but by several. It is to a great degree the product of their exchange of ideas with one another."

A Grave Situation, 1946