Joaquin Torres-Garcia Archive of Alexandra Aurelio and Claudio Torres, photo portrait 1921 in New York City

“OUR LIVES ARE IN A WAY THE SUM OF UNITS. NOT ONLY YEARS BUT HOURS. I AM APPROXIMATELY IN MY 367204th HOUR AND THE 367205th APPROACHES WITH A NEW FRAGMENT OF LIFE, UNLIKE THE PREVIOUS THAT WILL NEVER REOCCUR. ONE HAS TO LIVE LIFE WITH THAT SENSE OF CONTINUITY: ADDING HOURS”

 

JOAQUIN TORRES-GARCÍA (1874-1949)

ONE MAN, THREE CONTINENTS

 

Painter, sculptor, writer, art critic, educator… Nurturing modern art in Barcelona, Terrassa, Girona, Brussels, Bilbao, New York, Pennsylvania, Florence, Livorno, Villefranche sur Mere, Paris, Amsterdam, Dunkirk, Lausanne, Ascona, Zurich, Lodz, Warsaw, Madrid, Montevideo, Buenos Aires…

 

Born in the last quarter of the XIX century, Torres-García will soon venture himself beyond academia and impressionism, two opposite poles at the time, to become one of the founding fathers of modern art. Most likely he would have also felt at ease during the Renaissance, Egypt or ancestral cultures; he evades frameworks of historical classification. An adventurous spirit, he actively worked in more than twenty cities, sailing four times across the Atlantic accompanied by his ideograms; transforming boats, clouds, suns, moons, the stars… into geometry. As the snail, always carrying along with him his entire world –art, family, earthly possessions- each journey as a unit in a solid chain of knowledge, bequests us a new proposal tinted by different hemispheres. Similar to none, his art unavoidably reflects those boundless wonderings. For what is known as western culture Torres represents a unique synthesis between three of its paradigmatic continents. Retrieving for modern times the timeless concept of classic beauty, universal; foreseeing pop art, abstract expressionism and contemporary art. Furthermore, and as a never-ending author Torres awards us through the sieve of reason, with the fundamentals of those suppositions. More than one hundred and fifty books, essays and articles written in Catalan, Spanish, French, English; admirable treaties about aesthetics, calligraphy, pictograms and avant-garde literature. Without a doubt Torres-García’s art, theory and teachings transforms him into one of the great Masters.

Joaquin Torres-Garcia Archive of Alexandra Aurelio and Claudio Torres, banner sketch 1916a


1874. Son to European immigrants, Torres is born in Montevideo, Uruguay, a fortress city-port surrounded by the South American “Pampas”. In 1891 a teenage Torres and his parents, frustrated with a region amidst a century of civil wars, return to their native homeland of Cataluña carrying along the experience of a wild frontier in a continent still striving for independence.

1891. For the next thirty years he will live in Barcelona. City and Culture which nurtured his imagination as a child now materialize to influence his work and emotions for the rest of his life. There he will experience love, a family, fatherhood, his first steps as an artist and his first masterpieces; his collaboration with Gaudi in the Palma de Mallorca Cathedral and the Sagrada Familia. His work will reflect the miracle of cinema, the railway, automobiles, airplanes, the garden and its counterpart the industrial city. Freud, Einstein, Tolstoy, Lenin, the birth of the local anarchic movements, the humanism of Prat de la Riba, who commissions a series of murals for Torres in the Sant Jordi Palace, describes the artist as “…extraordinary, if some day my name is mentioned, it will be because of his painting. It will be said: in Torres-García’s time there was a politician named Prat de la Riba…” (TORRES-GARCÍA. Historia de mi vida. 1939). A leading light in the educational reforms of Cataluyna, his Joguines D’Art -didactic modular toy/sculptures- will rise from it. Archaist, Mediterranean tradition, modernity; he mingles avant-garde “isms”, before and after the Great War. Beyond Dada since 1916, he will write “A la manera de manifest, Art-Evolució”. Together with González, one of his lifetime friends, and Picasso -Miró and Salvat Papasseit ( a few years later) – they place Barcelona in the international art scene, becoming the foundational figures of the vanguard since “fin de siècle”.

 

1920. With Primo de Rivera’s dictatorial regime Torres crosses the Atlantic and flourishes in the modernity of “Prohibition” New York and its first skyscrapers. He enlightens his european friends through correspondence and publications in the ever diminishing – censored- independent Catalan press. His life then: the Society Anonyme, Inc.; the Whitney Studio Club; the Society of Independent Artists, a Saint Theresa for J.P. Morgan, iconographic reinterpretations of Walt Whitman, Dada art all over again. “…what painting Torres-García created at that time?…” he asks himself: “…expressionistic and geometric at the same time, and very dynamic (…) free rhythms painting yet already with verticals and horizontals as dominants…” (TORRES-GARCÍA. Historia de mi vida. 1939). Once again, his freshness and classical traditions nurtured the awakening New York’s avant-garde, enriching his peers, exhibitions, modern art collections and movements he finds. “New York”, one of his remarkable texts, explains it to us through a dialogue with his friend Graham.

 

1922. Despite Torres’s success, he yearns for Europe and returns: “…the Anglo-Saxon milieu is not my media (…) nostalgia grows. Finally, I go back to Europe…” (TORRES GARCÍA. Esbos Autobiográfic. 1926). The 30’s depression is transformed into creation. This time from Toscana, the Mediterranean coast and then the city of light: Paris. Continuously irradiating Barcelona from afar, enabling its participation in the latest vanguard. From here arise the magnificent “Object Plastique”, as well as his “Compositions”, his “Constructives” and “Structures”… Surrounded by leading artists, musicians and architects of the times he initiates Cercle et Carre (“Circle and Square”) group: Russolo, Varese, The Stijl, the Bauhaus, Gropius, Le Corbusier, Mondrian, Van Doesburg, Arp, Klee… enhancing his role once again as a foundational artist of Modern Art. With Picasso one day friends the next distant; González brings them together.

Joaquin Torres-Garcia Archive of Alexandra Aurelio and Claudio Torres, banner NYC Constructive


1933. Torres gladly joined forces with the international hope irradiating from the first government of the Spanish Second Republic. “…we need men as yourself…” he is pleaded by official legislators. (LUIS DE ZULUETA. Letter to Torres-García). Immediately creating his Grupo de Arte Constructivo (Constructive Art Group) in Madrid; exhibits in the Museum of Modern Art; invites González and Lipchitz to join forces with him. Organizes homage to Gris, teaches at the University… Inexplicably, it all dissolves one day; precisely as Orwell tells us, in civil war and Franco’s consequent government.

 

1934. Warm welcome among the many exiled and disillusioned with the “Old World”, South America is lucky to receive him in his last years accompanied by his European wife and children. As written by poet Vicente Huidobro, Torres’s return transforms him into “…the great cedar of American art…” an artist simultaneously present in three continents; Gallatin’s involvement of Torres in New York’s “Plan for the Museum of Living Arts”, and Paris‘s “Jeu du Paume” inclusion in the “Origines et développement de l’art international independent”. From Montevideo, Uruguay, “Switzerland of the Americas in the 40s”, Torres will follow the fate of his European peers in the onset of World War II at a place completely foreign to his birth sixty years back. Feeling distant and separated with the subsequent loss of contact, Torres commences a new juncture in his life with the usual; starting with the whimsically philosophical “Nuestro Norte es el Sur” (Our North is the South), a 180’ inversion of the Americas with the South Pole as the new north; an unbeatable South American flag. He then creates the Asociación de Arte Constructivo, (Constructive Art Association) and the Taller Torres-García (Torres- García’s Workshop), he proceeds to teach in the State University, gives conferences, radio talks…A Master to many, and without its fair share of controversy; european modernism was quite a shock to the conservative art critics, they nicknamed Torres “Vilardebó”, after the local mental institution “…He was considered a dangerous lunatic, whose strange and bizarre doctrines corrupted youths…” (GUIDO CASTILLO. Editor of Removedor). Five years into the journey he weights a mere 110 pounds; while painting the Saint Bois Murals in 1944 he requires constant medical assistance and ambulance escorts.

 

1949. He passes away at 74 years of age in Montevideo while planning a retrospective exhibition of his oeuvre in Sidney Janis’s New York Gallery. It inaugurates in 1950 as his first posthumous exhibit.

 

“…and now in order to finish, I want to explain something in regards to my painting: in 1906 I started to paint al fresco, and such painting was inspired in classical forms from the paintings on Greek ceramics, that is to say in perfectly normal images. Such painting continued its development but always through the same spirit: flat, ordered, universal. And always without absconding from the normal aspect (…) from 1916 to 1924 I started to decompose the image, and in reality to find a structure. Because of this in 1928 and 1929 I was able to formulate my theory about Constructive Art, and therefore, in a universal level…” (TORRES GARCÍA. La Recuperación del Objeto. Impresora Uruguaya. Colección de Clásicos Uruguayos. Nos. 75/76. 1965)


Joaquin Torres-Garcia Archive of Alexandra Aurelio and Claudio Torres, America part2