Being With (Être Avec)

Artist: Roberto Matta (Chilean, Santiago 1911–2002 Civitavecchia, Italy)

Date: 1946

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 87 x 180 in. (221 x 457.2 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, and Gift of The Glickstein Foundation, by exchange, 2003

Accession Number: 2003.270

Rights and Reproduction: © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Matta painted this fifteen-foot-long, mural-sized canvas in 1946 while he was living in New York (1939-48). It is a complex labyrinth of architectural structures seen from various perspectives and primitive humanoid figures contorted unnaturally and exploding with sexual exhibitionism. Such imagery drew from Matta's familiarity with architectural design (he worked for Le Corbusier in Paris from 1935 to 1937) and from Surrealism (he joined the Paris group in 1936). Like so many other modern artists who emigrated from Europe to the United States, Matta was physically removed from the horrors of World War II, yet his painting clearly expresses his distress at the state of the world. Unlike his previous Surrealist works (called "psychological morphologies") that looked within and invented visual equivalents for various states of consciousness, his paintings and drawings of the mid to late 1940s (called "social morphologies") attempted to address the broader societal crisis that the artist felt he was a part of, or as the title of this painting suggests, being with. These changes in approach alienated him from the Surrealists, but brought him closer to the nascent Abstract Expressionist group in New York (particularly Robert Motherwell and Arshile Gorky) who were eager to experiment with Surrealist techniques and imagery.