Thursday, May 1, 2014

Joaquin Torres Garcia

Tres figuras (Figuras de cinco colores)
oil on canvas
130 x 148.6 cm
location unknown

Tres figuras is a complex painting, merging the pictorial with the abstract. Three figures whose shapes recall his toys of the 1910s-1920s, are scaffolded within a stained-glass-style grid of red, blue, yellow, white and black.

Joaquin Torres Garcia (1874-1949) was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. A groundbreaking artist and theorist, he is best known as the founder of an abstract, symbolic painting movement he entitled Universalismo Constructivo. His work brought a new dimension to modernist painting, and his influence has been a defining one, particularly on the Latin American avant-garde.

After spending fruitful periods in Barcelona, New York, Paris and Madrid, he returned to Uruguay in 1934, where he imparted his lasting legacy through a workshop before his death in 1949.

After his family relocated to Barcelona, Spain in 1891, he began his art studies at the age of 17. By the turn of the century, he established friendships with the leading artists including Pablo Picasso, began to paint frescos and worked on stained glass windows for Antoni Gaudi's buildings. In 1913, he published his first book of artistic theory. Before he left for Paris in 1920, he began a project to manufacture toys. From Paris, he journeyed to New York City. There, he met Max Weber, Joseph Stella, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray. In 1922 he returned to Italy, founding the Aladdin Toy Company, and then returned to Paris in 1926. He exhibited and befriended leading cultural figures including Jean and Sophie Arp, and Piet Mondrian. He left Paris in 1932 for Madrid, and formed Grupo Constructivo. In 1934, he decided to return to Montevideo. In 1935 he published the book, Estructura, and established the Asociacion de Arte Constructivo. In 1944, he was honored with the Premio Nacional de Pintura.

Torres Garcia explored pre-Columbian and indigenous forms, as well as Egyptian, Greek, and Indian cultures. In order to invent a universal hieratic language, he crafted unique, archetypal figures. This pared-down alphabet of symbols, deployed in a compartmentalized, planar space, was his hallmark.