|Burn, Baby, Burn, 1965-66, oil on canvas, 298 x 981 cm|
A key work of peripatetic Chilean-born artist Roberto Matta, Burn, Baby, Burn was created following the violence of the Vietnam War and the 1965 Watts Race riots in Los Angeles. The title refers to the phrase coined by a radio DJ which was shouted by rioters in the streets of LA in anger over continued racial discrimination and police brutality.
A monumental and visceral response to the destructiveness of human beings, in the tradition of Picasso's Guernica, this epic work features Matta's characteristic 'webs' of paint across the canvas, which he referred to as “psychological morphologies” or “inscapes”. Futuristic and mechanical, the violent abstraction of the piece combined with bright contrasting colours and heavy grays, grips the viewers attention, dragging them throughout the work.
Catalytic to Abstract Expressionism, Burn, Baby, Burn uses the scale of the canvas and Surrealist techniques to demand a response from the viewer. There is no realistic figuration to tie the atmospheric composition down. Instead it appears to change before you as strange objects and figures - or rather non-objects and non-figures - advance and recede, Matta's unique use of line and colour giving the illusion of depth.
To sit before a Matta work is to get lost in a whole new universe. In this case it is one in which atrocities are abundant and hope is only in the distance. This 'universe' is very much our own world.
Currently in the Art of the Americas Building at LACMA, Los Angeles.