It’s getting on two years now that I’ve been writing this blog and I have yet to write about one of my greatest influences and interests, a school of painters known collectively as the Taller Torres Garcia. So for my 50th post, I thought I’d address that omission.
Not too many people in western Canada have heard of them, but the Taller Torres Garcia are tremendously well known in Latin America, particularly in Uruguay and Argentina. Functionally you could compare them to the Group of Seven, in that they are highly significant regionally but not as much elsewhere. Stylistically however they derive from a later moment than the Group of Seven, taking their starting point from Constructivism rather than Art Nouveau and post-Impressionism.
Their founder, Joaquin Torres Garcia, was born in Uruguay but moved to Spain as a young man. He didn’t return to Uruguay until he was 60 or thereabouts, having spent the intervening years moving peripatetically around Europe and spending a couple of years in New York. Along the way he met and was influenced by a lot of the big names of the period, even working as Gaudi’s assistant at one point. After a number of false starts and setbacks, he eventually attained his definitive style during a highly productive period in Paris in the 20s, where he worked with a number of more or less like-minded painters grouped together loosely under the name Cercle et Carré. Then for reasons that are somewhat obscure he decided to return to Uruguay, where he spent his last 15 years or so spreading the Modernist gospel in the New World. He formed the Taller Torres Garcia, or “Torres Garcia Studio” six years before he died, so as to pass the torch to an entire generation of young Uruguayan painters and sculptors. In this he was largely successful, and in fact the Taller as a formal organization outlived its founder by 13 years before winding down in 1962.
I’m not giving away much when I assert that my paintings derive from an aesthetic that was fairly prevalent in the first half of the 20th century. I’m heavily influenced by the schools that trace their origin back to Cezanne and subsequently evolved into Cubism, Constructivism, the Bauhaus, Geometric Abstraction and other related offshoots. (I’d also include Paul Klee in this group, although he stood somewhat off to the side and is sometimes lumped in with the Surrealists, which is the other major current in early/mid 20th century painting.)
The whole cubism/constructivism thing really waned after about 1950 or so. There were a couple of reasons for that I think. It had become stylistically pervasive to the point where it started to influence the look of just about everything: advertising, architecture, public sculpture, furniture, magazine illustration, Saturday morning cartoons, etc, often in a somewhat mannered form, and people got a bit tired of it. It also carried European associations and that didn’t fit well with the post war shift of the centre of avant garde painting from Paris to New York.
But that’s all ancient history now, which I guess might prompt the question why I persist in painting in a style that was well on the way out before I was born. I have several reasons, but the one I want to write about today has to do with something I’ve never seen explicitly mentioned in connection with painting from the period in question: a lot of it has a do-it-yourself (aka DIY) quality you don’t see much in the painting from earlier or later eras. By which I mean that much of it looks like it was painted in someone’s garage.
Now, I suppose it would be easy enough to spin that negatively, but let’s not rush to judgement just yet. Let me elaborate a bit first.
In 1918, who was the most famous living Spanish painter? I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t Picasso, although he had by then co-invented cubism and painted many of his most important works. It was probably Ignacio Zuloaga, a painter who has since mostly been forgotten (outside of Spain, at any rate). He wasn’t bad, actually: his technique was amazing, although his subject matter (crumbling castles, gypsies, femmes fatales, bullfighters) was old hat even back then.
Don’t believe me? Check out Google books Ngram Viewer, in either English or Spanish.
In 1890, who was the best-known French painter? If you guessed any of the Moderns – Monet or Cezanne, perhaps – you were wrong. If you guessed William Bouguereau, you were probably right, but only because you have specialized knowledge. Bougereau, a hugely popular academicien in his day, has been out of favour for many decades … although his works do make an appearance from time to time on greeting cards.