In his search for a legitimate foundation to build a lasting form of art, Joaquín Torres-García explored diverse sources: from the Greek Classical tradition and the art of ancient civilizations to the dynamic of the modern world. It was probably the Mexican painter Siqueiros who awakened Torres-García's interest in Amerindian art when they met in Barcelona in 1919. There they collaborated on the first issue of the avant-garde magazine "Vida Americana," which radically paid tribute to the indigenous artistic traditions of the Americas.
Thereafter, Torres-García had many opportunities to see examples of Pre-Columbian art, which in those days was considered to be more of anthropological interest than a subject for critical artistic evaluation. In 1921, Torres-García saw the collection of Peruvian textiles and ceramics at the Museum of Natural History in New York, and in 1928 he noted his visit to an exhibition of ancient art of the Americas at the Palais du Louvre. At that time, his older son Augusto was working at the Musée de l'Homme drawing the "rollouts" of the Museum's collection of Nazca pottery. Torres-García often visited Augusto at work where he was able to study and handle these pieces.
In Constructif en Ritmes Dentelés, painted in 1931, a seminal year in the concretion of Torres-García's Constructivism, the evidence of his interest in the art of the ancient Americas is obvious. The word dentelé, in French, shaped like teeth (dents), in the title of this painting, refers to the serrated edges of the color bands that separate the sections of the picture plane. This motif derives from Nazca ceramics and Wari textiles. Torres-García's use of a palette of warm earth red, ochre, and toned down white also reflect these sources.
The crossing of vertical and horizontal lines in the structure of the painting recall the vertical and horizontal threads in the weave of the fabric. This intrinsic structuring in the textiles determined how motifs woven in them underwent a schematization to fit the orthogonal of the weft and the warp. Similarly, Torres-García adapted in this painting a schema of discontinuous sections characteristic of the sophisticated technique of the Wari weavers. However, the jagged or scalloped bands in Constructivif en Ritmes Dentelés stop short of the next compartment, which gives the composition an original rhythm.
The successful integration of Amerindian elements and universal symbols such as house, ship, clock, etc. within the Neo-plasticist grid is quite an achievement. In this painting, Joaquín Torres-García was crossing the boundaries of ages and civilizations. As Theo Van Doesburg observed, Torres-García "dared to paint free of prejudices and free of tendencies as simply as I smoke a pipe of tobacco."
Cecilia de Torres
New York, 2002
We are grateful to Cecilia de Torres for her assistance in cataloguing the present painting.
This work is being sold with a certificate of authenticity signed by Alejandra Torres on June 27, 1997 and will appear in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist under archive no. 489.