The early 1940s proved to be one of the most fruitful periods of Matta’s career. Having recently received public praise from André Breton in the May 1939 issue of Minotaure, Matta’s reputation had been solidified as a young and dynamic member of the European Surrealist movement. But as the threat of war loomed in France, Matta fled for New York in October 1939 along with fellow Surrealists Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, André Masson and André Breton. After settling in Manhattan, Matta quickly gained visibility through his first solo show at Julien Levy Gallery in 1940, as well as inclusion in the famed Artists in Exile exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1942.
Fluent in English, Matta provided both a linguistic and artistic bridge between European Surrealism and the burgeoning Abstract Expressionist movement in New York. He counted Arshile Gorky and Robert Motherwell as friends, in addition to many of his fellow Surrealist expatriates. Matta even lunched with Marcel Duchamp on a regular basis, covering a range of shared interests spanning math, science and mechanics. In particular, Matta’s devotion to automatism as a method of accessing the subconscious influenced early Abstract Expressionist painters such as Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock.
During this period, Matta drew on a wide array of influences including his training with famed architect Le Corbusier and Freud’s study of the subconscious, as well as a fascination with the occult, the tarot and astrology. This confluence of interests coalesced in Matta’s creation of psychological inscapes, which aimed to replace the physical perception of the eye with a three dimensional depiction of the mind. As said by Duchamp, “Matta’s first contribution to Surrealist painting, and the most important, was the discovery of regions of space until then unknown in the field of art'' (Marcel Duchamp, Catalogue of the Société Anonyme and the Dreier Bequest at Yale University: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, 1950). These inscapes have become some of Matta’s most sought-after works, culminating in the Museum of Modern Art’s acquisition of the inscape The Vertigo of Eros in the same year.
The Mexican poet Octavio Paz said, "The best way to define Matta's unique position in that decade is to imagine a geographical, historical and spiritual triangle: South America (Chile), Europe (Paris), and North America (New York and Mexico). More than three times, the three faces of our civilization" (quoted in Matta (exhibition catalogue), Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1985).
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