Roberto Matta was born in Santiago, Chile, in November 1911. He was educated at Catholic schools--the College of the Sacred Heart and then at the Catholic University, from which he graduated in 1931. With a degree in architecture, Matta went to work as a draftsman with the world-famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier. While working for Le Corbusier, Matta met Pablo Neruda and Federico Garcia Lorca, both of them world-famous writers. The list of famous artists Matta met and sometimes worked with in his career is like a short list of Who's Who of twentieth-century art and literature. Salvador Dali, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, Arshile Gorky, and Jackson Pollock were others whose acquaintance Matta made as he moved from South America to Europe to the United States and back to Europe. Most of these acquaintances and collaborators have died. But Matta is still active at about eighty years of age living in Italy.
Something of the art, ideas about art, or techniques of several of the successful and influential individuals Matta met can be seen in his art. As Jackson Pollock, for instance, created unexpected patterns and forms with the technique of "drip-painting" he used, Matta created new effects in his works of art by applying transparent washes of color to his canvasses with a rag. This not only gives his art works their unexpected patterns and forms, but also luminosity not found with the paintings of Pollock. This luminosity gives Matta's works a depth and a presence, which is unique.
Matta was younger than most of his artistic colleagues. Many of them had already begun in their different ways the revolution they would bring to art in the twentieth century, the age of modernism. The style of Surrealism was one of the major new styles bringing about this revolution. Dali, whom Matta met, as well as the Frenchman Rene Magritte were two of the leading artists of the surrealist movement. Magritte is usually seen as one of the founders of it, and Dali was one of Surrealism's most public representatives. Starting his career as an artist in the 1930s even as he was working for Le Corbusier, Matta hoped to make a name for himself by "extending the scope of Surrealism." This he surely accomplished. It could even be said that he went beyond only extending the scope of Surrealism to move into a new style. The surrealism of Dali and Magritte is based on the use of familiar objects and the incongruous juxtaposition of them. In one of Dali's paintings, for instance, he has a watch draped over the branch of a tree.