Roberto Matta was a Chilean artist widely known for his involvement with the second Surrealist generation of 1930s Paris. His drawings and paintings explore the relationship between psychological states of mind at the level of the individual and of society. In 1939, Matta arrived in New York and met the British engraver Stanley William Hayter, founder of the printmaking workshop Atelier 17. Hayter’s shop fostered a spirit of camaraderie and creative freedom that attracted many young artists and inspired them to embrace printmaking as a social and political tool. Matta’s engraving practice can be traced to this period, when he produced the "New School" series (1944). The present etching shows the characteristic line work observed in his earlier prints, and the various layers of color reveal Matta’s skill at color etching, a technically complex and time-consuming medium. The Surrealist scene displayed in "Les Oh! Tomobiles" conveys Matta’s critique of modernization. Humans are transfigured as monstrous creatures, driving cars that appear to be heading towards a head-on collision. Between them is a rising spiral of dark lines with a red stick figure at its center. Through a word play—typical of Matta’s titles—the French word "automobiles" turns into a cry (oh!) for the portrayed imaginary beings (the tomobiles). The chaotic scene reflects on the consequences of industrial development—pollution rises from a symbolic representation of Earth—and foretells the wave of violence following the coup d’état that brought the socialist government of Chilean President Salvador Allende to an end in 1973.
This text was created in collaboration with the University of Maryland Department of Art History & Archaeology and written by Patricia Ortega-Miranda.