NEW YORK, NY.- Roberto Matta was an influential figure in the New York art world of the early 1940s. Energetic and charismatic, he was able to translate European surrealism to a generation of young American artists in a way that would galvanize them to experiment with its techniques, ultimately encouraging a new phase of American art, Abstract Expressionism. La révolte des contraires of 1943 is a masterful example of Matta's utilization of thin washes of pigment, undulating lines, and flame-like breakouts of prismatic color to portray a non-Euclidean space he dubbed "inscapes."
Matta left his native Chile in 1935 and the ensuing years were a time of intense change and artistic development for him. Arriving in Paris, he began to work for the rationalist architect Le Corbusier, but was soon led in a vastly different direction. His new friendships with a series of poets, the Spanish Federico García Lorca and the Chileans Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, inspired him to a greater emotive expression. In 1937 he met Salvador Dalí and André Breton and later that year, Marcel Duchamp, Yves Tanguy, and Joan Miró. By the fall, Matta had joined the Surrealist group and found their method of automatism conducive to the formation of his own particular biomorphic style. Along with his friend, the British surrealist Gordon Onslow Ford, Matta became interested in the writings of the Russian esotericist P.D. Ouspensky. The writings of Ouspensky, along with those of the French mathematician Jules Henri Poincaré, led the artist to explore notions of visual perception and the limitations of three-dimensional space. This would spark in Matta a life-long quest to find the artistic means to portray unseen dimensions, the passage of time, processes of transformation, and other esoteric concepts.
Matta landed in New York City in October of 1939, leaving France soon after it entered into World War II earlier in August. In Paris his work had been championed by Breton who, by praising it publically in the May 1939 issue of the Surrealist journal Minotaure, solidified his reputation as an important member of a younger generation of surrealist artists. Thus, soon after his arrival in New York, the Julien Levy Gallery, known for surrealist exhibitions, invited him to show his paintings in 1940. Matta quickly gained a reputation and had a one-man show in 1942 at the Pierre Matisse Gallery and received much critical acclaim in the press. La révolte des contraires reveals a number of influences on the artist at that time. In 1941 he traveled to Mexico where he became interested in pre-Columbian calendar systems. From 1942-44 he met up frequently with Marcel Duchamp and the two discussed their interests in mathematics and science and in this vein, mathematical models viewed at Columbia University further inspired him. Matta also studied magic, astrology, the tarot, and the occult writings of Eliphas Lévi. In La révolte des contraires Matta creates a cataclysmic space in a perpetual state of flux. Black curvilinear lines on a white ground suggest limitless space, as concentric circles spin, creating vortexes of energy. Flashes of exuberant yellow-green evoke an astral, otherworldly light illuminating the void. Illusionistic space is juxtaposed against opaque planes of black that emphasize the surface, and this vacillation (as the title indicates) creates a tension suggestive of processes of transformation. Simultaneously hermetic and accessible, La révolte des contraires depicts a metaphysical realm where scientific notions of the cosmos meld with the interior, psychological space of the mind.
This work is sold with a certificate of authenticity signed by Germana Matta Ferrari dated June 2004 and is registered in the Matta archives under no. 44/7.
Susan L. Aberth, Associate Professor of Art History, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson