“I come to achieve something concrete, something that ought to come about…something that is already fermenting,” Torres-García declared upon his return to Uruguay in 1934, more than forty years after he embarked on a transatlantic journey that led him to Barcelona, Paris, and New York. “Given our tradition, our…public, our latent virtues, the miracle would not lie in our producing something great, but in our failing to do so.” A celebrated teacher, Torres-García catalyzed the development of modern art throughout Latin America, lecturing widely and forming the Asociación de Arte Constructivo (1935-39) and, in 1943, El Taller Torres-García. Proclaiming that “our North” is the South, he advocated a hemispheric approach to modern American art grounded in the shared, indigenous legacy of abstraction. The paintings from this final, Montevidean period mark the culmination of Torres-García’s career and exemplify his theory and practice of Constructive Universalism, which combined the “reason” of geometry with the spiritual “intuition” of man and nature.
“The tradition of civilization is the tradition of ABSTRACT MAN,” he wrote from Montevideo. “The tradition of ABSTRACT MAN: tradition of construction. . . . In man, cosmic measure. Measure for his works.” In this Man, Torres-García continued, “the living and the abstract are identified. Awareness of this relationship produces knowledge of profound reality: Life and Geometry. Man-Universe.” Abstract Man figures in a number of Torres-García’s paintings, and he takes characteristic form in Constructivo con formas estructuradas, rendered in primary colors and within the integral geometry of the grid. “The universality of ABSTRACT MAN,” his “equilibrium, order,” is nevertheless localized by his painted position, here between Torres-García’s initials and the printed “Montevideo” and “1943,” which circumscribe him in time and space. A number of Torres-García’s primary-colored paintings from this year, among them Constructivo Uruguay and Ritmo constructivo de ciudad, similarly inscribe Abstract Man within pictographic grids that evoke the city and its dynamism, implied in the present work by the train, a recurring and ubiquitous motif.
During this particularly prolific and generative year, Torres-García refined his vision for the Taller, consolidating his teaching and his own practice around an expansive understanding of abstraction. “Today among us, we say that painting is abstract and concrete at the same time, and without that having anything to do with representation, that is, independently of whether it is or is not figurative,” Torres-García asserted. “We say that it is abstract, because instead of imitating reality, it proceeds with absolute plastic elements. Because reality, then, becomes only a pretext for us to establish, on the canvas, an orchestration of hues or values.” This cohesion of plastic values finds classic expression in Constructivo con formas estructuradas, in which recognizable forms—man, train, bottle, building—are reconciled within the ideal schema of the Constructivist grid, long since evolved from the Neo-Plastic precepts that he had explored years earlier, with Theo van Doesburg, in Paris. A microcosm of unity and creation, the painting manifests a new paradigm for Latin American art, embodied in the person and tradition of Torres-García’s archetypal Abstract Man.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1 Joaquín Torres-García, quoted in Cecilia Buzio de Torres, “The School of the South: The Asociación de Arte Constructivo, 1934-1942,” in El Taller Torres-García: The School of the South and its Legacy (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1992), 7.
2 Torres-García, “The Tradition of Abstract Man (Constructivist Doctrine)” (1938), trans. Buzio de Torres, in Torres-García: Grid-Pattern-Sign, Paris-Montevideo, 1924-1944 (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1985), 105-6, 109-10.
3 Torres-García, “Lección 124: Unidad de la pintura,” quoted in Buzio de Torres, “The School of the South: El Taller Torres-García, 1943-1962,” in El Taller Torres-García, 115.