An Analysis of Roberto Matta’s Eat Us Sir Fire, Eat Us

UNIVERSITY OF NAMIBIA RESEARCH METHODS FOR VISUAL ARTS ANALYSIS OF A PAINTING YANA JAEGER 201124351 DUE DATE: 15 MARCH 2013 The purpose of this paper is to find a painting, describe it and analyse the piece. The structure of this assignment will be as follows: information about the artist, an overall description of the piece and a detailed analysis. For the conclusion, I shall attempt to interpret the work and give my personal views. The artwork I have selected is a painting done by Roberto Matta, titled “Eat Us Sir Fire, Eat Us”. Roberto Matta was born in Chile, Santiago 1911, and died in Italy, Civitavecchia 2002.
Many artists influenced this painter, such as Dali, Duchamp, Picasso and Tanguy. The inspiration for his paintings and subject matter came from mythology, cosmology and microscopic images. Matta’s subject matter usually included paranoid visions of technology gone amuck, themes of Man versus Machine, otherworldly landscapes, alien beings involved in various unexplainable activities, conflict, eroticism and whimsical fantasy. However, several of his works can be categorised as ‘inscapes’. ‘Inscapes’ is a word created by two other words (also known as a portmanteau): interior and landscape.
This conveys some idea of the artist’s psyche and state of mind. Basically, ‘inscapes’ show what the artist’s mind would look like if it were splashed onto a canvas. Matta officially joined the Surrealist Movement in 1937. He was well-known as a Biomorphic Surrealist painter. For clarification: Surrealism was “A 20th Century movement in art and literature aiming at expressing the subconscious mind. ” (The Concise Oxford Dictionary: 8th Edition, 1990, p. 1228) This movement was divided into two styles: Naturalistic and Biomorphic Surrealism.

Biomorphic Surrealism can be described as natural occurring patterns or shapes indicative of nature. The images are usually not recognisable, but sometimes they can be represented by cells or morphing shapes. “Eat Us Sir Fire, Eat Us” is an oil painting on canvas, created in 1988. The scale is rather large; due to the fact Matta was also inspired by Mexican Muralists, his work tended to be metres in size. It is in a landscape format, thus having a rectangular shape. The focal point is in the bottom left corner where one can see two animal-like figures and perhaps a human figure, holding a jug/vase, standing behind them.
Above these figures there is a bright yellow dot, possibly representing the sun or a spark. In the centre is the fire, but it is not clearly recognisable. The only clue to knowing it is the fire is the bright red paint mixed within the shapes and patterns. In the centre right, one can see two feline-type figures facing the fire. The art elements I shall be using to analyse this piece are line, form, tone, colour, composition, style and emotion. Matta used both black and white lines in his artwork. He used them to outline his figures and create random shapes and patterns.
The lines are very clear, juxtaposed, some are thin, some are thick and he also incorporated both straight and curved lines. Most of the straight lines lead the eye to the figures in the left bottom corner. There are a variety of small forms with a few dispersed larger forms in this image. The forms are angular and curved and slightly broken, similar to the Cubistic style. The larger forms are placed on either side of the canvas with the smaller forms/shapes placed clustered together in the centre. Matta was famous for using vivid and bright acidic colours in his work. This piece is no different.
He used bright red, yellow, acerbic green, orange, a bit of brown, black and white. Red and orange was used for the fire in the centre, yellow for the sky in the top row and left column (Golden Section), green in the right column and bottom row (also Golden Section), black shadows in the entire bottom and centre rows, white for the smoke in the top row and the figures on the left, and lastly brown in the left bottom corner on the rabbit-sort figure. The tones are quite dark, mainly in the bottom and centre where the black shadows are seen, with a bit of lighter tones on the animal figures and the sky.
The composition is well balanced due to the placement of the colours and figures. The position of the animals on the sides and the fire in the centre creates a three panelled division in the image. The two Golden Sections created by the yellow and green, creates a sort of diagonal division from the top right corner to the left bottom corner. The lightness of the sky creates a division from the darkness of the earth on the bottom two rows. Clearly Matta used the Golden Grid Rule in this artwork. Matta’s style is very abstract and biomorphic.
Nothing is really recognisable, but one is only given a sense of what is going on in this image. At first, feelings of panic, chaos, urgency, angst and heat are generated from this artwork, but on closer inspection, one feels a sense of calm, warmth and amazement. I feel a sense of emergency created by the fire and its close proximity to the animals, fearing for their safety. However, I also feel a sense of awe and readiness from the animals staring into the fire, as if waiting for something. Possibly the fire is so beautiful that the animals do not feel the need to run away from it.
They are all facing towards it, felling no fear. They could be looking at it admirably, or in wonder, transfixed. It reminds me of the Native Americans, the way they huddle near a fire while the sun sets, telling each other stories. It especially reminds me of the theatrics of the medicine-man, who flings dust into the fire creating sparks and heavy smoke, and then ghostly images form in the flames and smoke. This is a form of fortune-telling, to create assurance and set the people’s minds at ease, but this is also used to advise the people to remain aware and head the warnings.
In the title, Matta calls the fire ‘Sir’. This could have been his way of saying that the fire has a higher status and should be respected. It portrays the fire as noble and honourable. Even though the fire seems as if it is out of control, the animals and human look at it intently, and do not hurry in the opposite direction. This blends well with the title ‘Eat Us’, meaning that they are willing to be consumed by the fire. It is possible that this image could be erotic in some way. Dreaming of animals usually represents the subliminal animalistic tendencies of the dreamer, and fire symbolises passion, desire and sex.
It could be conceivable that Matta was trying to portray an animalistic love or lust in humans, and we have a subconscious desire to be consumed by it. We secretly yearn to become wild, be devoured by lust, have sex with no attachments and do it for the physical pleasure alone. A very Freudian way of interpreting this painting, I think. Yet perhaps Matta was only trying to say that one should not be afraid of the fire, rather respect and be in awe of it. But what does the fire represent? Itself, or something deeper and more psychological?
All in all, this is a very colourful and chaotic piece. It leaves many questions in one’s mind, but that is what makes Matta’s work so enticing; trying to figure out what he was thinking and what he may have revealed about himself, filling the canvas with landscapes of mystery and obscurity. Image Eat Us Sir Fire, Eat us Roberto Matta 1988 Oil on Canvas References 1. The Concise Oxford Dictionary: 8th Edition. (1990). New York: Oxford University Press 2. Rock, T. (1997). Matta Art. Retrieved 13 March 2013, http://www. matta-art. com/

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