About this artwork
Trained as an architect, the Chilean-born Roberto Matta moved to France in 1933, where he worked in the studio of Le Corbusier. The following year, he met the poet Federico García Lorca in Spain. After Lorca was assassinated by agents of Francisco Franco in 1936, Matta began a screenplay, The Earth Is a Man, which he wrote in tribute to the slain hero. The play’s apocalyptic imagery, rapidly shifting perspectives, and emotionally charged language became the principal source of Matta’s visual art over the next five years. The painting The Earth Is a Man represents the culmination of this project and draws on the artist’s earlier compositions, which he called “Inscapes” or “Psychological Morphologies.” In these, using a technique of psychic automatism developed by the Surrealists, Matta created turbulent forms that serve as visual analogues for states of consciousness.
In this powerful, enigmatic work, forces of brilliant light seem to battle those of darkness. The artist spilled, brushed, and wiped on vaporous washes of paint to render the invisible waves of energy that shape and dissolve a molten, primordial terrain. The painting’s visual intensity evokes the tumultuous eruption of a volcano, such as one Matta had witnessed in Mexico in 1941. Exhibited shortly after its completion in New York City, where he had immigrated at the onset of World War II, the mural- size canvas, with its abstract and visionary qualities, enthralled and influenced a new generation of American artists, who would come to be known as the Abstract Expressionists.
- The Earth Is a Man
- Oil on canvas
- 182.9 × 243.8 cm (72 × 96 in.)
- Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Randall Shapiro (after her death, dedicated to the memory of Jory Shapiro by her husband)
- © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.