Matta (Chilean 1911-2002)
Matta (Chilean 1911-2002)

Yennes, l'évitation in blue

Matta (Chilean 1911-2002)
Yennes, l'évitation in blue
oil on canvas
18 1/8 x 28 in. (46 x 71.1 cm.)
Painted in 1939.
Galerie de France, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner (1972).
G. Ferrari, Entretiens Morphologiques, Notebook No. 1 1936-1944, London, Sistan Limited, 1987, p. 220 (illustrated in color).

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Virgilio Garza
Virgilio Garza

Lot Essay

This work is sold with a certificate of authenticity signed by Germana Matta Ferrari and dated 8 April 2013.

Matta arrived in New York in late 1939, coming at the forefront of a wave of European émigrés who would broadly disseminate Surrealism across the Americas over the following decade. A charismatic figure, he already carried important influence by 1942, the year in which he published the surrealist journal VVV with André Breton and participated in two important group exhibitions: Artists in Exile at Pierre Matisse Gallery in March and First Papers of Surrealism at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century in October. For many artists associated with the emerging New York School--Jackson Pollock, William Baziotes and Arshile Gorky, among many others--this early encounter with Matta's practice would meaningfully shape their path toward Abstract Expressionism.

Against the backdrop of the Second World War, Matta began to evolve an extraordinary iconography of the natural world--ecstatic, cataclysmic, atomic--in his paintings of the early 1940s. "When I arrived in the United States, I started talking about the earth," he later explained. "In these pictures I tried to show not landscape which is 'scenery'--a scene of the earth--but the earth as something terrific, burning, changing, transforming, growing. The earth not just seen with the naked eye but with the morphological eye."[1] The suggestively incendiary imagery of his work from 1941 and 1942 reflects his experience of the Mexican landscape at first hand during the summer of 1941. In the company of his wife, Anne, Robert Motherwell, and Barbara Weis, the daughter of collectors Bernard and Becky Weis, Matta spent three crucial months in Taxco, paying visits to the surrealists Gordon Onslow Ford and Wolfgang Paalen and plunging himself into the indigenous landscape. The chance eruption of the Paricutín volcano during his stay stimulated new comparisons between his inner life and the volcanic forces of nature, and his paintings of the following year project the visions and apocalyptic energies of an agitated mind.

Like such contemporary paintings as Listen to the Living, Au centre de l'eau and The Earth is a Man, Yennes, l'évitation in blue draws on what curators Elizabeth A. T. Smith and Colette Dartnall have described as Matta's "idea of an inner fire, manifesting itself as flames, eruptions, and swirling lavalike forms to express the interrelatedness of man and landscape. Within these morphological landscapes with no apparent central focus one can decipher both crystalline and fluid forms amidst fields of vibrant color." Inviting an analogy between the morphology of Matta's paint and the metabolism of the natural world, Smith and Dartnall suggest that "the struggle between chaos and cosmos" is imaged in "unevenly painted surfaces applied in layers that are alternately thick and transparent."[2] Here, the quiddity of Matta's paint dramatizes the enveloping vapor of blue, which washes over opalescent bodies that gleam, gemlike, through amorphous openings. A living, liquid landscape, Yennes, l'évitation in blue evokes an atmosphere of cosmic flux, a watery galaxy of life emerging out of the ether.

"Let us recall the genesis attributed to 'astral light,' the medium of creation," André Breton enjoined before Matta's paintings. "Matta is he who has plunged into the agate--and here I am no longer designating by this term a particular variety of mineral but including all stones that secrete this 'exalted water,' this 'soul of the water' which, according to the occultists, dissolves the elements and 'gives the true sulphur or the true fire.'"[3]

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1 Roberto Matta, quoted in Nancy Miller, "Interview with Matta," in Matta: The First Decade (Waltham, Mass.: Rose Art Museum, 1982), 12.
2 Elizabeth A. T. Smith and Colette Dartnall, "'Crushed Jewels, Air, Even Laughter': Matta in the 1940s," in Matta in America: Paintings and Drawings of the 1940s (Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2001), 17.
3 André Breton, "Matta," in Breton, Surrealism and Painting, trans. Simon Watson Taylor (Boston: MFA Publications, 2002), 184.

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