Roberto Sebastián Antonio Matta Echaurren (1911 –2002) was one of Chile's best-known painters and a seminal figure in 20th century abstract expressionist and surrealist art. Born in Santiago, he initially studied architecture at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, but became disillusioned with this occupation and left for Paris in 1933.
The first true flowering of Matta's own art came in 1938, when he moved from drawing to the oil painting for which he is best known. This period coincided with his emigration to the United States, where he lived until 1948. Prof. Claude Cernuschi writes, "Matta's key ambition to represent and evoke the human psyche in visual form was filtered through the writings of Freud and the psychoanalytic view of the mind as a three-dimensional space: the 'inscape'." During the 1940s and 1950s, the disturbing state of world politics was reflected in Matta's work, with the canvases becoming busy with images of electrical machinery and distressed figures. The addition of clay to Matta's paintings in the early 1960s lent an added dimension to the distortions.
Matta divided his life between Europe and South America during the 1950s and 1960s, successfully combining the political and the semi-abstract in epic surreal canvases. He believed that art and poetry can change lives, and was very involved in the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. He was a strong supporter of the socialist government of Chilean president Salvador Allende. A 4x24 meter mural of his entitled The First Goal of the Chilean People was painted over with 16 coats of paint by the military regime of Augusto Pinochet following their violent overthrow of Allende in 1973. In 2005 the mural was discovered by local officials and in 2008 was completely restored and is displayed today in Santiago at the La Granja city hall.
Matta died in Civitavecchia, Italy on 23 November 2002.