Colette Dartnall: Exhibition co-curator, Matta in America: Paintings and Drawings of the 1940s, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Susana Bautista: former Editorial Director, LatinArt.com
"Art is not made by one artist but by several. It is to a great degree the product of their exchange of ideas with one another."
- Max Ernst, 1946
SB: The curatorial essay you wrote with Elizabeth Smith starts off with the above quotation by Max Ernst, a fellow Surrealist artist he knew in New York at the time. Do you believe that Matta would have experienced the same "exchange of ideas" with artists had he remained in Chile, or that there is a qualitative difference in the "exchange" he experienced in his travels to Europe, Mexico, and the United States?
CD: Matta believes that the time or location of events in a person's life doesn't ultimately constitute the essence of a true biography but that it is rather the difficulties and struggles a person experiences as a result of these events and how he or she reacts to them which is the basis of one's character and work. His work is a product of his reactions to not only exchanged ideas with specific persons he associated with such as André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, and Gordon Onslow Ford, but sites he visited such as Maine and Mexico, and events he witnessed such as the eruption of a volcano in Mexico. Although Matta was mostly a leader in his circle, the "exchange of ideas" he experienced would have most certainly been different had he remained in Chile.
SB: After receiving his degree in architecture in Chile, what was the overriding factor that took Matta all the way to Paris at the early age of 23?
CD: During this time Paris acted as a magnet for many young artists.
SB: Matta was introduced to Surrealism after meeting Salvador Dalí and André Breton in Paris. Was this the prevailing artistic style in Paris at the time, or was there something particular about Surrealism that influenced him?
CD: Surrealism was the prevailing artistic style in Paris during that period, a time when artists were struggling to redefine art in reaction to Cubism. Surrealism had the appropriate character for Matta at the time as he was interested in the limitations of visual perception, depicting unseen realities, and the unconscious as a means of directing his images.
SB: The exhibition focuses on Matta's years in New York, from 1939 - 1948, when many Europeans fled the continent because of World War II. After living four years in France, did Matta feel comfortable living amongst Europeans again in New York, or was he more influenced by the "American experience?"
CD: Matta was friendly and comfortable with both Europeans and Americans. Although he developed strong ties with many European artists such as Gordon Onslow Ford and André Breton, he was very friendly with and even closer in age to many Americans including Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock. During these years, Matta served as somewhat of a bridge between an older generation of artists - the European surrealists in exile - and a younger generation of Americans, later known as the New York School.