While shaping the influential but short-lived abstraction-centric Cercle et carré movement along with Michel Seuphor just the year before, he discovered two key fonts of visual and spiritual inspiration: European Medieval art, and pre-Columbian art. He longed to rekindle the link between the human and the divine was intrinsic to the art of these periods, which he felt was lost during the shift towards rationalism that characterized the Enlightenment in Europe. Where the Surrealists also sought to recapture this ephemeral mysticism and groups like the Bauhaus and De Stijl were dedicated to pure, rational abstraction, Torres-García believed that only at the intersection of these philosophies could true, meaningful art be made.
In Torres-García’s work from 1931 onwards, the balance of spiritual and rational is made manifest in his visual vernacular of Universal Constructivism. Characteristic of this period, Constructif avec navire’s composition is constructed upon an orthogonal grid, in which a dense network of geometric figures and symbols are suspended. “By 1930-31, Torres-García’s repertory of symbols was fairly well defined and included precise references to the cosmos (the sun), the ideal pentameter (the number five), human emotions (the heart and the anchor, representing hope)…the paintings of 1931 also contain familiar references to a modern context (boats, clocks, motors, skyscrapers) and generalized symbols of the world of nature (leaves, snails, fish)” (Margit Rowell, “Order and symbol: the European and American sources of Torres-García’s constructivism” in Torres-García: Grid-Pattern-Sign (exhibition catalogue), London, Hayward Gallery, 1985, p. 16). In Constructif avec navire, symbols of the domestic world (the house, the broom, the ladder, the key) are placed in dialogue with universal icons of inspiration and emotion (the star, the heart). Perhaps here the inclusion of the ship alongside the heart and the anchor presages Torres-García’s return to his native Montevideo three years later where he would go on to found the influential Taller Torres-García, actualizing his vision for a Universal Constructivist school.
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