This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Germana Matta Ferrari and dated 7 April 2015.
After 1945, as the full horrors of World War II became increasingly known, the inexhaustible and protean surrealist Matta shifted his style to reflect his growing alarm concerning the fate of humanity. Long a lyrical cartographer of mankind's psychological and metaphysical inner lives (such as in his paintings known as "inscapes"), the artist now infused his scenes with a palpable sense of fear. His paintings grew larger in size (as is evidenced here) in order to portray on a monumental scale strange, humanoid entities enmeshed in mechanistic webs that hinted at torture and brutality. Addressing this phase of Matta's work, the curator Mary Schneider Enriquez noted: "Always sensitive to the human condition, the artist now accounted for both the physical and mental atrocities of war, as well as technology's dehumanizing effects."
Peopled with utterly alien, totemistic figures, the space of La rencontre du vitreur avec le forçat de la lumière (en hallucination première) omits the natural references and luminous veils of color of his earlier work from the 1940s. In lieu of this is the nightmarish world of the factory, replete with metallic conveyor belts that capture and pierce the flesh of these monstrous creatures. Although operating as a metaphor for the impersonal killing machines of modern warfare, it could also refer to the murderous efficiencies of the German death camps. Apocalyptic in feeling, it is a hell of our own making, devoid of divine justice, rationality or even human presence. The neutral beige of the background, in combination with the dull grays and glinting blues, serves to highlight the pinks and reds of the splayed, wounded and mutilated "body" parts that remain mercifully abstract. Dark brown lines circle and swirl around these figures, adding to the sense of entrapment and chaos. Sexual sadism has its usual diabolical place in this modern hell as genders morph and combine in a Bosch-like manner while from slashed genitals and tongues blood grimly drips.
Matta called these figures vitreurs and they were inspired by a variety of written and visual sources: André Breton's new myth of the Great Invisibles written in 1942, the totems of Northwest Coast Indians, and even the elongated sculpture of Alberto Giacometti (Matta purchased the plaster cast of Hands holding the Void,  in 1943). With their long rubbery limbs, hovering unpleasantly between insects and robots, these monsters populate such paintings as A Grave Situation, 1946, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; The Pilgrim of Doubt, 1947; Wound Interrogation, I948, The Art Institute of Chicago; as well as innumerable watercolors and drawings. Threatened with torture and death, the vitreurs communicate anxieties surrounding societal conflicts and reveal the internal dread aroused by our helplessness to extricate ourselves from very real cataclysmic events.
It is interesting to note the le forçat de la lumière (Prisoner of Light) in the title. Earlier in the forties Matta had studied the magical writings of Eliphas Levi and had tried to incorporate his notions of spiritual space and astral light in paintings such as Prisoner of Light, executed in 1943. Some remnant of this theme appears to survive in La rencontre du vitreur avec le forçat de la lumière (en hallucination première) and might explain the horizontal and vertical glass-like, whitish planes in the center of the work. Two figures here might be actual "prisoners of light"--the right figure's outstretched hands seem to be captured in a luminescent pillory while the left figure's torso looks perilously close to being bisected by a rather sharp transparent plane. Matta was criticized for reverting to traditional figuration by American art critics of the time dedicated to Abstract Expressionism. Luckily for us he remained impervious to their taunts that, with the addition of these robotic figures, his work operated within the realm of "science fiction." To a contemporary audience they now seem alarmingly prescient of cyborgs and of the ever-increasing mechanization and dehumanization of military technology.
Susan L. Aberth, Ph.D., Annandale-on-Hudson.