Torres-García: Making the ancient modern
A riot of colour and diversity, Latin American modernist art combines sculpture, architecture and the abstract as well as ceramics, weaving, and body painting. The unique blend of geometric abstraction, Cubism, Pre-Columbian art and Amerindian cultures feeds off each other, blending the ancient and modern. Our new World’s End collection explores some of these links, but let’s take a closer look.
Areas of South America with small indigenous populations (generally, areas east of the Andes and in the Southern Cone) were particularly receptive to avant-garde European art movements, including master modernist Joaquín Torre-García. Combining indigenous history and motifs with the aesthetic movements of early and mid-20th century Europe, his School of the South captured visual experiments with structure, geometry, ancient symbols and nature. The 'Southern palette' he created, featuring the earthy and bright primary colours favoured by Inca and other pre-colonial civilisations, is still used today by thousands of contemporary Hispanic artists worldwide. The school's sculptures and ceramics also remain among the most highly sought art from the region.
Not content with this, Torres-García also attempted to reconnect with the traditions of his native continent. While pursuing an artistic career in Paris, he wandered through the natural history museums, searching for pre-Columbian motifs to inspire his work. After months of pacing galleries and exhibitions, he discovered the geometric designs from the Nazca of Peru and Tiwanaku from Bolivia, both of which appealed to his signature architectonic aesthetic.
At The Vale, we find The Nazca tribes particularly fascinating for their technically complex textiles: typically made from spun cotton and wool using a backstrap loom. Nazca women often wore sacred or potent imagery on their garments, as an indication of their status. Archaeologists have discovered examples of their dresses, covered in birds with speckled bodies, double-headed serpents, and anthropomorphic deities. Torres-García, however, seemed more drawn to Nazca geoglyphs or ‘Nazca Lines’: a series of geometric shapes, lines, and large animal drawings, some as large as football fields. Some believe they were created for the Nazca’s gods to look at from above, while others suggest they were an astrological calendar or the pathways for important ceremonial processions.
Tiwanaku culture also appears to have had a powerful influence on Torres-García’s work. Their textiles, often featuring bright colours and stepped patterns, closely resemble his (and other Latin American Cubists’) art. In particular, his Figuras a Cinco Colores (1938) and other works from the mid-1930s.
After Torres-García returned to Uruguay in 1934, he was further inspired by indigenous Amerindians, carving geometric depictions of Inca deities out of wood, hammered together using traditional joinery methods. Four years later, he unveiled Cosmic Monument, a stone sculpture influenced by the ancient Bolivian Gateway of the Sun. The original gateway was covered in an intricate frieze, showing a deity figure surrounded by astronomical and natural forces for agricultural worship. Torres-García also presented another work that year, Hombre Constructivo, believed by many to be inspired by the original gateway deity.
To explore the influences of Cubism and Central American art at The Vale, take a look at our new designs. Alive with the bright flora and fauna of the Central American rainforest, Mighty Jungle is our modern take on ancient Mesoamerican cave paintings. Influenced by the colour and diversity of styles in Latin American art and Cubism, these scenes are contemporary originals printed on fine cotton. Meanwhile, Squiggle’s billowing organic line work is based on forms from the Cubist movement and Central American tribal art.
Find out more about the World's End collection.