In the years prior to his arrival in New York, Matta—who originally trained in academic figure drawing in his native Chile and then as a draftsman in the Parisian studio of Le Corbusier—began to experiment with drawing objects in state of “physical transformation” (Martica Sawin, Surrealism in Exile and the Beginning of the New York School, New York, 1995, p. 31). It was not until Matta had met and befriended artists Gordon Onslow-Ford and Yves Tanguy, and officially joined André Breton’s Surrealist group, that his artistic production set on an innovative and unconventional path. While spending time on the coast of Brittany with Max Ernst and Onslow-Ford in the summer of 1938, and later on in the summer of 1939 at Chemillieu with Onslow-Ford, Yves Tanguy, Kay Sage and Peggy Guggenheim, Matta began creating paintings that were “radically different from those of the preceding generations of Surrealists. [He] had brought from architecture a great facility in the depicting of multidimensional space… At the urging of Onslow-Ford, he then began to supplement his line drawings with amorphous sweeps of color, applied to the canvas with large brushes in such a way that they had the effect of dematerializing the drawn spaces and linear constructions” (ibid., p. 64).
Matta’s first paintings executed from 1938 to the beginning of the 1940s would mark a period and body of work of that could be considered the most significant and compelling of his (early) career. “Psychological Morphology” is the term he would invent to describe these visual landscapes. As Matta defined it to Breton, “I call psychological morphology the graphic mark of transformations resulting from the emission of energies and their absorption in the object from its first appearance to its final form in the psychological milieu” (quoted in ibid., p. 29). Characterized by bright colors and the fusion of architectural and biomorphic forms, Matta presents to us in the Psychological Morphologies a landscape of the inner psyche. In the present work, Morphologie (Paysage de fantaisie) of 1939, delicate jewel-like tones melt across the canvas creating the sense of a limitless space that goes beyond the canvas itself, obscuring a defined horizon-line. Intensely engineered biomorphic forms that do not appear “clearly solid or liquid, geological or biological” float as they recess from foreground to background (Claude Cernuschi, “Mindscapes and Mind Games” in Matta: Making the Invisible Visible (exhibition catalogue), McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, Boston, 2004, p. 60).
Pavel Tchelitchew, Kurt Seligmann, André Breton, Piet Mondrian, André Masson, Amédée Ozenfant, Jacques Lipchitz, Eugène Berman, Matta, Osip Zadkine, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, Marc Chagall, Fernand Leger, New York, 1942. George Platt Lynes/Bridgeman Images.
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