Cercle du Blé explores a primordial landscape of violence and conflict, connecting to three key events or movements that influenced Matta’s work: the Spanish Civil War, Surrealism, and World War II. Born in Chile, Matta spent much of his professional life in Europe, where the violence of the...
Cercle du Blé explores a primordial landscape of violence and conflict, connecting to three key events or movements that influenced Matta’s work: the Spanish Civil War, Surrealism, and World War II. Born in Chile, Matta spent much of his professional life in Europe, where the violence of the Spanish Civil War helped to shape his vision, which often incorporates elemental struggle and psychic distress. Matta first experimented with the kind of apocalyptic imagery visible in Cercle du Blé after the 1936 assassination of his friend, Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca. Matta’s immediate creative response to Lorca’s death was the script for the never-produced experimental film The Earth Is a Man, which is filled with emotional images of growth, perversion, and violence in a traumatic, nonsensical world. The Earth is a Man became a significant source of material for Matta’s future work as a painter. In Paris in 1937, Matta became a member of the movement known as Surrealism, and he introduced their concept of automatic drawing, or the practice of working without planning or forethought, into his art. Many Surrealists pursued automatism in order to reach beyond their artistic training and produce dreamlike imagery unfettered by reason or logic. Matta’s particular method was to apply thin washes of pigment to the canvas, then rub or smear them using his hand or a cloth. Once this improvisational process was complete, Matta would use a brush to define the forms he discerned in the smeared paint. Cercle du Blé shows significant evidence of Matta’s automatism, with rubbed and abraded lines appearing in almost every area of the canvas. The final event that shaped Matta’s Cercle du Blé was World War II. Matta fled Europe for the United States in 1939, returning to Paris only in 1948. (While in New York, Matta educated a number of American artists, including Jackson Pollock, about Surrealism.) As the full horrors of the war (including the Holocaust) became known, Matta grew interested in depicting collective struggles rather than his own personal inner world. Matta described this shift, writing “I was attempting to use a social morphology, not a personal psycho-morphology: to move away from the intimate, imaginary forms . . . towards the cultural, totemic expressions of civilizations . . . the formation of cultures in confrontation with social landscapes.”  The spearlike shapes in Cercle du Blé bring to mind archaic armies clashing in battle, and the painting’s title, which translates as “Circle of Wheat,” suggests the scything of crops at harvest time, an age-old metaphor for the collective loss of life in war. Matta first explored these themes around the time of World War II, and thereafter they had a pervasive impact on his work. Notes 1. Germana Ferrari, ed., Matta: Entretiens Morphologiques: Notebook No. 1, 1936–44 (London: Sistan, 1987, 229. Heather Hole
1953, the artist. Susan W. and Stephen D. Paine, Cambridge, Mass.; 1981, gift of Susan W. and Stephen D. Paine to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 13, 1982)
Gift of Susan W. and Stephen D. Paine
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.