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-1930s he knew the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, as well as André Breton and Salvador Dalí. He left Le Corbusier’s atelier in 1937 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 he called “inscapes” or “psychic morphologies.”

Matta fled Europe for New York in 1939, where he associated with other Surrealist émigrés including Breton, Max Ernst, André Masson and Yves Tanguy. The Julien Levy Gallery in New York presented his first solo 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 1940s Matta’s painting anticipated many innovations of Abstract Expressionism and influenced many artists of the so-called New York School, particular his friends, Arshile Gorky and Robert Motherwell. The new generation of artists considered him a leading figure in contemporary painting from whom to draw inspiration. Towards the end of World War II he evolved increasingly monstrous imagery; the appearance of mechanical forms and cinematic effects in Matta’s work reflects the influence of Marcel 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, and 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.