75 years of a painter

By Edgardo Pérez Luna

Peruvian painter Macedonio de la Torre emphatically affirmed that Pop Art (esthetic ordering two everyday objects that have fallen into disuse) and action painting (automatic brushstrokes without previous chromatic modulation) are Peruvian: “I invented them 50 years before the School of New York. But here real worth is not recognized.” The veteran painter from Trujillo formulated this categorical and compromising revelation on the diamond anniversary of his painting career.

When Vinatea Reinoso was barely four years old, Macedonio was shaping his first miracle of light on a canvass. Seventy- five years have passed and this former pubescent has now become a venerable old man who still spends various hours at his messy yet pleasant studio on Jirón Puno. It is here that he transfigures his spirit into admirable chromatic images.

This artist has painted thousands of canvasses; he has composed thousands of objectivizations, especially with bones, small rocks and the most unlikely of materials. He has painted everything and with everything. He has tried out different tendencies and esthetic orientations. Like a modern Midas of art, he has transformed all that he has touched into the radiant gold of beauty.

But who is this painter that has lived so long? What is the profound significance of his work and what lessons and legacy will he leave?

In order to find an artist you usually have to find the man first. He is more than a painter; in fact, Macedonio´s first commitment has always been to ethics rather than to esthetics. He is committed to his time more than to fashion; he is committed to everything that fascinates and draws a real man. He has survived post-impressionism, picassoism, indigenism, the School of Paris, surrealism, abstraction, and the diverse isthmus of the contemporary avant-guard because his painting has always been an imperative and a mandate of his esthetic instinct rather than an exercise of fashionable recipes. This attitude and this commitment are key to understanding his prolific work.

Macedonio de la Torre lives like all men who have discovered that the concrete world is an excuse to unleash the beauty of the spirit. A lack of concern with how he dresses, a poor memory, extreme contempt for money and a deliberate taste for the trivial things in life(in which he finds unexpected significance) are the hallmark signs of his incidental humanity. He loves tradition without putting aside his drive for renewal. He savors good food and good drink with delight and says: “Lima is a dehumanized city because the good times have ended.”

Entering Macedonio de la Torre´s studio offers the visitor the opportunity to come closer to the profound meaning of his work and the hallmarks of his long and prolific professional and human production. Four or five enormous books with thousands of pages are scattered about the room; these volumes house the faded and yellowed testimonies to his existence. It is here that the memories are pieced together in a necklace of photographs and cuttings: his birth in Trujillo at the end of the last century; his studies at the Universidad de San Marcos; his trip to Buenos Aires and his group with Quinquela Martín; his long stays in Germany and Italy; his first artistic triumphs in Belgium and France; his unforgettable presentation in the Autumn Room in Paris; his expositions in New York; his triumphant return home; his friendship with Vallejo, Valdelmar and Riva Agüero; his marriage, children and grandchildren. Everything is right here in these enormous albums, which have rescued his existence from the relentless shipwreck of time. Although these albums attest to the perishable man, artistic work lives beside them as a testimony to that which time cannot subjugate. Dozens of paintings and objects of art found in the studio splash across the eyes of the beholder; this is evidence of the universal fruit of a creative production that is both uniquely coherent and artistically honest.

After 75 years of creation, Macedonio is “ready to begin again.” He admits that: “we have to create, question, investigate and take risks.” He recalls the anecdote that says: “a full body portrait of the historian José de la Riva.” It refers to a painting that Macedonio had sent to the author of “Paisajes Peruanos” only to have it returned by the recipient with a thank you note that said, amongst other things, that an artist should not let go of his work; the author had attached a blank check for Macedonio to fill out the amount.

Macedonio told us that the last painting that he has done is of a flower in honor of his first cousin Víctor Raúl Haya de La Torre. He added that he had taken this painting to Villa Mercedes just days before the illustrious Peruvian politician passed away. In a sad tone, Macedonio added: “The flower I have painted in honor of Haya will never wilt.”

At the end of the interview, he told us that the only advice he could give to young painters was that they should work very hard. “You have to paint every day,” he added.

Yesterday and today, this artist has a goal and a style. He rescues the beauty that things hide and does so honestly.

Lima, October 1979