Gallery Diane de Polignac

Roberto Matta

Untitled – c. 1963
Mixed media on canvas
100 x 100 cm / 39.37 x 39.37 in.

[ price upon request ]

roberto matta - peinture de 1963 ca

Earth as the medium: Matta and the Cobra movement

Matta used earth as a medium for the first time in 1954 in Albisola in Italy where gatherings around ceramics were organized by the artist Asger Jorn (1914-1973), in the studio of Giuseppe Mazzotti (1907-1981) with the artists Enrico Baj (1924-2003), Corneille (1922-2010), and Sergio Dangelo (1932), and also the poet Édouard Jaguer (1924-2006). From ceramics, earth was then used in painting, integrated directly as a raw material. These encounters thus allowed Matta to work with artists of the Cobra movement.

The first Terres paintings: Panarea

Mattea created his first “Terres” paintings in Italy, in his house at Panarea where he moved in 1957. The Italian philosopher Italo Calvino (1923-1985) wrote about these works: “a happy season of work in Italy and the encounter with a material rich in elementary suggestiveness, a reddish earth from the Roman countryside: all this is the source of these almost monochromatic paintings, where frescoes between the prehistorical, the totemic and the science-fiction agitate as if they were guided by the sound of a subterranean saxophone.”
The beautiful work from 1963 shown at the gallery is one of these Italian Terres. The rough material is mixed with glues and applied to hessian. The use of these modest materials is doubtless influenced by Arte Povera artists. In 1936, Matta discovered the work of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) especially Le Grand Verre . Mechanics in the manner of Duchamp made him realise that it “was possible to paint the process of change”. His search for a form that was constantly evolving comes from this revelation. This idea is applied to earth, a poor and rough material, it is transformed into pigment and reaches the status of a work of art.

The Terres paintings: Historical Morphologies

With his Terres, Matta wanted to depict a morphology of humanity in relation to itself, others and the world: he referred to Historical Morphology. The Terres are in fact primarily connected to the places where they were created. Matta therefore expresses in these works the preoccupations of his time.

The Terres paintings of the Centre Pompidou

The work of 1963 presented in the gallery is reminiscent of Matta-Matière, a work currently on view at the Pompidou Centre (2020 Rotation – Accrochage Collections Modernes: 1 January – 31 December 2020). This work was donated by Daniel Cordier, Matta’s gallerist who regularly exhibited his works, first in Paris in 1956, then in Frankfurt and New York. Cordier said about his work: “With this process (automatism), he extracts from the conscious the figures that sleep there. In this way he has created in a period of a few years, a repertoire of new forms (…), science-fiction for some, settlement by Martians for others, X-rays of psychological fluids for the author. His first richness is the variety of interpretations he proposes; his talent is the creation of a disconcerting climate, neither flora nor fauna, neither atmosphere nor space, neither lighting nor light, but always both together, intimately melted into each canvas.”

The painting from 1963 available at the gallery is also close, in terms of date, size, technique and composition to the Composition Monochrome also at the Pompidou Centre which was bought by the French state as early as 1965.

Both of these works have a monochromatic background against which a humanoid figure is placed, outlined in black. This contour which allows the shape to be distinguished from the background in this monochromatic composition is reminiscent of the ancient technique of wall frescoes. Matta knew Leonardo da Vinci’s theory, for whom the contemplation of “walls soiled with many stains or made with multi-coloured stones, with the idea of imagining a few scenes” became a source of inspiration for creating “landscapes”, “battles”, “figures”. The figures in Matta’s Terres, seem in fact to stand out against a wall, like stains to which the outlines created by the artist give meaning.

From the Psychological Morphologies to the Historical Morphologies

The earth holds in itself its space and time, applied onto a rough canvas it thus becomes the privileged language of engagement. Following on from the Psychological Morphologies, the Earths are graphic representations of the fluxes that circulated between Humanity and the world to become Historical Morphologies.

© Diane de Polignac Gallery / Mathilde Gubanski
Translation: Jane Mac Avock