Sunday, December 4, 2011

Matta, Pretty Boy, Pretty Good Painter.

Matta: A Centennial Celebration, on the occasion of the one-hundredth anniversary of Matta’s birth.
Pace Gallery Chelsea

Conundrums abound in this overtly zealous painter’s manic space, but you can’t accuse him of not trying, like Gorky he let it all hang out.
Matta’s Surrealist origins shape a lifetime of mostly hectic, unfussy canvases that contain cogently conceived contemplations, urgently constructed.
Leaving his native Chile for Paris in 1933 he hung with André Breton and became the youngest member of the Surrealist circle.  A literalism creeps into this early work, but Matta’s playful nature (which becomes an important saving grace during a long, industrious career) invigorates cubist doctrine and design.
After moving to NY at the beginning of WW2, he quickly joins the burgeoning Abstract Expressionist scene and connects with Gorky’s quirky synaptic painterly rhythms. Matta’s  “inscapes” and his “psychological morphologies” are inherently indebted to Gorky. Matta repays this kinship by having an affair with Gorky’s wife, (to be fair Gorky was suffering horribly at his time from cancer, depression, and a studio fire that wiped out some important work, he must not have been much fun to be around) and is excommunicated from Surrealist society.
Moving back to Europe for the rest of his life, Matta launches into a prodigious output of paintings inspired by socially relevant issues and technological phantasmagoria.
His mid century scheme features a modernist sensibility manifesting as an obsession with goofy, apocalyptic visions of techno sci-fi dilemmas run amok.  The most spectacular visages are spread out in a mural-like format of an extended rectangle. This provides us with a left-to-right narrative read that repeats itself a bit too much. The semiotics can get a tad predictable, even if his use of vivid pigments saves the day.
Figurative references abound in these epic compositions. Elastic, skeletal forms extend stretched out limbs that integrate a casual architecture. This zesty Mad Magazine cartoon-esque figuration succinctly anticipates graffiti.
Matta’s strengths as a painter are apparent; his expansive spatial atmospheres, and chromatic saturation are applied with a delicate airbrushed finesse, and achieve a sublime pastel fragrance. But the confluence of flatness and a murky palette at times lead to uncertainty of intent. He seems to lose focus easily, compositions can strive for harmony and end up a-tonal and off key. Excessive reliance on scratchy, hasty looking drawing weighs down already clunky and tentative cacophonies that for all the excited mark making end up static and slightly stale. With Matta sometimes you have to pick and choose to find the rewards.   
Then seen to be surging from some orchestral wellspring of momentous seismic activity, a gargantuan canvas like “L’Homme Descend Du Signe” goes rocketing towards an electro-mechanical nirvana, exuding a violet haze enveloping free-floating sections of disjointedly animated creatures.
This cosmic theater evokes sweeping cinematic vistas of space age paraphernalia that entertain notions of wit and whim. We know the painter was having fun and so are we. 

"L'homme descend du signe"
1975 (75/8)
406 x 835 cm.

"El espejo de Cronos"
1981 (81/1)
315 x 495 cm.
  "Burn, Baby Burn"
   298 x 971 cm.

  "Être Atout"
  (from suite 'Être Atout')
  1960 (60/15)
  200 x 288 cm.

"Comme elle est vierge ma forèt"
1992 (92/7)
300 x 530 cm.

"Les Roses sont belles"
201 x 281 cm.

"Etoile artaud"
1991 (91/15)
200 x 300 cm.

"Les découvertes du fouilleur"
1955 (55/2)

22.8 x 29.2 cm.

 Matta in his studio.

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