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Born in 1911 in Santiago de Chile to Basque parents in an upper middle class family, Matta graduated from architecture school in 1933 and settled in Paris in 1935, where he apprenticed with the famous modernist architect Le Corbusier. In Paris, Matta was introduced to Federico Garcia Lorca, Salvador Dali and the young British artist Gordon Onslow Ford, who became his best friend. André Breton, seeing their work, invited the young Matta, along with Onslow Ford, to join the Surrealists. Matta explored his subconscious with symbolic and abstract language and an ever-evolving internal landscape, a process he called 'Psychological Morphology. Like many of his contemporaries, Matta emigrated to New York at the outbreak of World War II, and participated in the exhibitions and lecture series initiated by the Surrealists at the New School of Social Research, led by Onslow Ford. Matta's youth, charisma and dynamic energy made him an accessible figure in the eyes of young Americans. He developed a mentoring relationship with many of them and eventually started a series of weekly workshops in painting, collaborative play and surrealist philosophy in 1941. Among these artists/students were William Baziotes, Gerome Kamrowski, Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Peter Busa and Robert Motherwell. In her groundbreaking tome "SURREALISM IN EXILE, and the Beginning of the New York School," art historian Martica Sawin wrote that Matta "...wanted to create a splinter group for the surrealists in exile to rival Breton's hold on the movement." She quotes Kamrowski as recalling how 'Matta was trying to project certain ideas, to get people to visualise time, to develop a kind of symbol, and while drawing automatically, to see what a common connector would be'. Much of what later became Abstract Expressionism was attributable to the theories and techniques that Matta had explored as a member of the Surrealists, and then passed on to the Americans; in particular the concept of automatism and the predominance of the subconscious or irrational mind over the rational. More than any other European, Matta was the greatest influence on this generation of American artists, living in New York and open to revolutionary forms of artistic expression. When Arshile Gorky committed suicide in 1948, Andre Breton excommunicated Matta from the Surrealists, holding him responsible for the artist's death due to an affair between Matta and Gorky's wife Agnes. Matta spent his last years between Europe and South America and died in Civitavecchia, Italy, in 2002. Numerous exhibitions and retrospectives in Berlin, Paris and New York honoured his brilliant career and contributions.

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