Allow me to return to the past to brush the dust off of a memory of a conversation held in Paris. A cold wind was blowing the golden leaves off the trees and five thousand painters participated in the world of the Autumn Room. It was 1928. Someone spoke: “Do you believe that if you can reach thirty without losing or tarnishing your austerity that your creative faith will be safe?” “I am afraid that at thirty- went the reply- you hang up the muse and make a landing.”
This reply however was not completely satisfactory. The poet continued. “We Latin Americans- he said- are precocious by nature. Until the age of thirty, we believe, love, hate and laugh exclusively and cry exclusively. After...comes total or partial skepticism, sheltering, in the last case, our vital faith in good eating. We lose man’s creative instinct, replacing it with, in the most innocent of cases, a conventional role as a husband and, more often than not, a social “tic” such as becoming a doctor, sub-prefect, decent individual, dandy or drug addict.”
The pair took two steps to the right. Both fixed their sight on the “Landscape” Number 1965 of the Exhibition. The other repeated: “What do you think about Macedonio?” “Macedonio- answered Vallejo- has passed the age of thirty happily. He has not been considered a child prodigy and his work has not elicited sudden and universal admiration. The majority of the public has remained and remains indifferent to and perhaps ignorant of his work. And he- after the terrible alibi of turning thirty- has continued working and believing, loving and hating with a growing creative blaze. He seeks not to deceive or deceive himself. He, like Lenin, detests exports and imports through intermediaries: a complacent press, amenable friends or demagogic tricks or condescension of technique.”
(Nothing more, Vallejo. We want to introduce Macedonio and there is no better person than you to do the job. There is no one better than you to judge him. Thank you).
The Cosmos Locked Between Four Walls.
It took me a long time to do this report. Macedonio, half fish and half bird, always escaped from my grasp. Half water and half light, he always escaped my eyes. I remember how one evening I surprised him in his studio on Mogollón street, number 200 and some. He was pacing like prisoner or monk. He went from a brushstroke of oil paint to the vertebrae of a lion, from a gray rock to the beak of a gannet. He went for the center to the periphery. From the back, he looked like I don´t know what in this asylum of rainbows and gray rocks. When an open door no longer provided sufficient light and I proceeded to stick my whole head in, I also felt the hallucinations. I accompanied him in his nervous contemplation. I went from here to there formulating questions with my eyes and my mind- signs of admiration. I went from his “tri-dimensional” painting, which had been rejected by a Painting Competition, to a sunflower set on cardboard. I went from his “Sinfonía de color” from 1910 to the “Gran Acorde” of 1954. I went by the “Port” raised on the shores of a blue moon, with its lighthouse that flew like a bird and its Martian caravels made out of a fish skeleton. I went from “Napoleon,” sculpted in rock, to his “Maternidad” in rock, both bland in expression despite their medium. I went with Macedonio from the “Hágase la luz” to the disintegration of the “H Bomb,” from a spore to Man. I entered the Maze of Subconscious Greece with him. I saw the genesis of the world. I watched as brushstrokes made nouns and the mortar combined. I saw time shape things and the ovum of life fertilized. From the soul- a piece of cartilage- to the body of a man- a mandrake- they were there. He makes the abstract concrete. Rocks and bones are his “plans, his volumes, his circles and his angles, uniting the purity of beings that are nothing more than his SHAPE working a miracle to give the artist the reason for and confirmation of his feelings, his cosmic conception, his human compression.” The millions of people living on earth seem to be there, closed in between these four walls.
The Mystique of Nature
That afternoon, Macedonio, emphatically declared- in front of Sabino Springett, who arrived afterwards dressed in an aviator cap that covered a mortal sin- his baldness- that if he hadn’t of been a painter, he would have been a farmer. “ In Trujillo- he recalled- I had four rural properties that I worked with my own hands. I whittled away the hours caressing the corncobs and the cauliflower hearts. Plants were my passion. In front of my house, I made a monument out of mud to the “corn” god. This is how I lived in my world until I had a bad experience with water. The water dried up and my plantings died off. One afternoon, a friend found me painting an autumn scene. Afterwards, rumors went around that I had let the corn dry out on purpose in order to paint the golden tones of death. There was no truth to this at all.
Of course this wasn’t true. Macedonio couldn’t lie because he later told us that he loved plants. His mystique had no limits and on a daily basis, ever so religiously, he gave his personal fertilizer to a little tree that benefited from the kindness of his shadow.
One afternoon, I went with Macedonio to drink a coffee. I remember that I was tired and that I had even fallen asleep. Nevertheless, I heard him talk about his trip to Buenos Aires in 1915. “I studied the third year of arts in the city,” he said. One night I met up with Alberto Sotero and Eulogio Cedrón. We agreed to take the “Aisen” steamer to Buenos Aires the next day. We bought tickets to Cerro Azul for 12 soles. On the high seas, we chatted with a steward who agreed to take us to Valaparaiso for 30 soles more. Sotero stayed. Cedron and I went on to Buenos Aires, but on foot. We covered 320 kilometers in 11 days and ate crackers for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
In Buenos Aires, adventurers starve. Macedonio, being the violinist that he was- in Trujillo he was part of the children’s symphony- goes to a café in Constitution plaza and asks for work. The owner looked him over: short, skinny, clumsy, angular, black-eyed and black-haired. He hires Macedonio and hypes him as the gypsy violinist. From 6 in the afternoon to 2 in the morning for 18 pesos. His best piece was the second ballad of Zarazate. For obvious reasons, Macedonio was fired 20 days after he had begun.
The Madness of Necessity
The man speeds up. Macedonio goes back to Mendoza. Necessity reaches incredible heights. Now the madness is complete: Macedonio becomes the Minister of Government and Police’s photographer.
Macedonio shows his mouse-like teeth. He laughs.
A stomping is forthcoming.
Macedonio is going to be upset when he reads this paragraph because he recommended that we not mention it. One day, Macedonio attended a large Catholic event in Mendoza. The multitude moved like an ocean. All of a sudden, Macedonio stepped on the toes of an ecclesiastic dignitary and had to ask for forgiveness. The priest responded with angelic goodness that our painter´s sins were forgiven.
Years later, Monsignor Paccelli would become Pope Pious the XIIth.
Down with Dadá!
Macedonio is now in Europe. It is 1924. He arrives in Paris and encounters the “Dadaist” movement. Macedonio is bewildered. He goes to listen to Tristán Tzara who is screaming across a theater: “All of you look at me. I am an ugly idiot. Look at me well. I am like the rest of you.” Ramón Gomez de la Serna gives a conference on the back of an elephant. Another blurts out: “Dadá doubts everything. Everything is Dadá. Be wary of Dadá.” And yet another: “Down with artists, anarchists, communists and the artists. Long live the concubines and the cubists.” An authentic artist, Macedonio lives far from the racket of the “fauves.” He goes to Caprena, an Italian village with 500 inhabitants. He lives there-happily- with his wife and two children. Happy until his third child announces his arrival. Macedonio flies to Brussels. He spends two thousand “reichs” on the trip. He goes to the hospital. He takes a taxi. The driver charges him 16 “reichs.” He has no money left. “That’s life, explained Macedonio as he finished his café.
Macedonio the liberal
Macedonio del la Torre was born in Trujillo at Gamarra No.13 on January 27, 1893. He is over fifty but doesn’t look it. Macedonio doesn’t age; he just gets sharper. He is timeless. Macedonio first studied the arts as a child at school. It was here that he was “submitted to feminine slavery” and to time because a huge wall clock hung above his desk. After, he entered the Colegio Semanario, where he learned about life’s wonders through the liberal education he received from the Lazarist priests. He remembered Father Rouge, a great sportsman and champion of Basque ball; Father Goullon, an entomologist and naturalist who was friend to both insects and birds; Father Graf, a Russian who spoke of music; Father Standard, an authentic mystic; Father Puege, ever so industrious and possessing a strange understanding of the lives of bees and silk worms; Father Blanc, who enjoyed jubilant and historical readings.
Macedonio showed me some albums full of cuttings and photographs marked with bile spills. I read some. When he and I came to a cutting that said that Macedonio belonged to “a distinguished family,” the artist prepared his rifle and shot off a curse word.
A Sculpture by Vallejo
Macedonio de la Torre belonged to the “Northern Group” along with César Vallejo, Juan Espejo Asturrizaga, Francisco Xandóval, Alcides Spelucín (where could Spelucín be?), José Eulogio Garrido and Antenor Orrego (and where could Orrego be?) Memories of this group have forever penetrated the literary history of Trujillo, this Trujillo that is the synthesis of all of the towns where many of us first saw Liberty. What was Vallejo like?
Macedonio moved his thin fingers in the air. The steam from his “café express” wafted in the air. Macedonio seemed as if he wanted to make a smoke sculpture to represent the poet: “Vallejo was a good man. Organized. The “cholo” was spoiled. He was a man.(Manly but not humane, as he liked to say.) I don´t believe that he died from hunger like using a cliché to finish a phrase. Vallejo died with everything in its place. He had everything in order. Sometimes I asked him to be a guarantor when I wanted to pawn my rings.
–Yes, pawn rings. You have never done this? (I had to think back to the “Gold Button” I had won in a poetry contest in Trujillo. I had pawned it at the “Savings Bank” in Lima four years before). Macedonio told me that Durrio, a famous Spanish potter, lived a poor lifestyle. He had a couple of canaries. He had a dog. He had two Renoirs and four Van Goghs, all of which were gifts from the artists. He had a cat named rigoletto and an oven to bake his art. On day, Macedonio arrived to visit Durrio. “Come in, he said. Take this ring and give me a few francs.” Macedonio gave him the money and Durrio gave him this painful anecdote of a ring.
No, I don´t know how this thing with Ruiz Rosas and his painting “Pan” came about. This painting won the “Manuel Moncola and Ordóñez competition that was recently held. When I tried to get Macedonio to speak about it, he pulled back. “I only believe in art with noble intentions. I don´t believe in scoreboards.”.
–If I play the piano with intention....
–Of course you have to know how to play it, he interrupted me. And you also have to know how to be timely.
Later, risking it all, I told him that it seemed an opportune moment to engage in “Social Art” in our country. Macedonio was sensitive to political ideas but tired of petty politics; he chose to remain silent. We were silent.
Five days later we met again. He conducted himself like a soul that carries art within. He ..... He was always agile, nervous. His pointy shoes acted as a compass. We went into another bar. “In art no one can sell you a cat for a hare, he said. He then added that one’s value is the work of others.” He was nervous. He didn’t want to tell me where he was coming from. When he calmed down, I asked him what he thought about our colleagues. Unfortunately, he absolutely refused to comment. I put away my pen and paper and we left. Along the way, he spoke of some painters. I took these mental notes:
Dávila: “ Well intentioned. He will soon escape from his current slavery.
Grau: “Great painting technique”.
Sérvulo: “I admire him a lot”.
Szyszlo: “I refrain from comment”.
Cristina Gálvez: “I don´t comment about ladies”.
Sabogal: “ I recognize his work and his conduct. His restlessness and effort have been laudable.
About Greco: “I had a San Francisco from Del Greco that I bought in Trujillo from an antique dealer. I put candles in it. They stole it from me. Who has it? I would like to know who has it.”
About Vélazquez: “…Although he is the antithesis of Greco.”
About Van Gogh: “Van Gogh dies when I am born”.
About Leonardo de Vinci: “Oh, Leonardo de Vinci”.
About Picasso: “I have to admire Picasso”.
About Henry Moore: “Haven´t you seen my work: “El Reencuentro de lo Humano en las Formas Perdurables?”.
What is art?
Macedonio could never give an opinion about what art is. He was always dissatisfied with something. But this afternoon he was inspired. This was his definition: “Art is to make the changeable long-lasting. It is to make time eternal.” He added: “The artist is responsible for carrying out what I have just defined.” He also said that the artist works so that others will understand him.
–Do you believe that everyone understands your painting Macedonio?
–I think so; they have to understand it because it is sincere.
Macedonio said no more. It seemed like he had run to Vallejo to free himself. Vallejo gave his opinions in the “Mundial.” “The majority of the public has remained and remains indifferent and still ignorant about it.”
And Peru. What does it have?
Macedonio said: “the French have the Louvre; the Spanish, the Museo del Prado. He asked: and Peru, what does it have? After, he added: the rich amass all the works of art but the poor do not. “This is where the State steps in,” he said. It ensures that the community at large has its own gallery.”
The Bees and the Flies
The seventh time that I met up with Macedonio, he didn’t want to talk about painting. Instead, he spoke about bees. He remembered Father Puerge and the beehives that he had in Trujillo and the study that he had begun when he was twelve. When I said that he had corrected Maeterlinck´s plan, Macedonio became very happy. See how he showed his mouse-like teeth again!
– Is it true that bees are more intelligent than ants?.
–No. Ants aren’t more practical than flies either.
“One time I took the test by the Frenchman Jules Fabres. I put a fly into a bottle, covered it and left it in the dark. I put a bee at the other end of the bottle where light could penetrate. The collectivist bee, asexual and vagrant, was able to escape through the bottle’s mouth. The individualistic, highly-sexed and logical fly died trying to escape.”
When I asked him if he believed that life ended after death, Macedonio said no. “When I heard that Bourdelle had died, I went to his mortuary home. He lived in something like a garage. Only his wife and a photographer were inside. When I approached the famous sculptor’s body, I froze. I had never seen a dead man whose expression was as full of life as Bourdelle´s. I went to tell Ventura García Calderón about this, but at first he refused to accompany me because he felt uncomfortable with death. Finally, I convinced him to come have a look. We went. Once at the door, he said to me: “I am not going in.” And he didn’t go in. I did go in and I left a note that the French master’s wife should still have.”
The last evening, we had nothing to talk about. In his nervousness, Macedonio let the light from a neon tube spray brushstrokes of lime across his face. He looked like Eguren against the light. Well, at least the Eguren in the painting. It was the seventh time that he had cleaned his mustache off with a paper napkin. He was nervous. To distract him I asked:
- What is freedom to an artist?/p>
– It is everything. For an artist, “to love freedom above all else” should be the first commandment.
(This also applies to me, I said to myself.)
– Do you believe in peace?
–No I don´t because life is always a struggle.
– But Macedonio, you have painted pigeons!
–No, he answered. I have never painted pigeons. (“Pigeons are meant to be roasted.” – saying on a roadside billboard that we once saw in Avignon.).
– Does love exist?
–Yes, it exists as a gift from God.
Outside of the bar, it was night. We stood up and left. The interview had concluded. But how could I end it? It is the right time to repeat the following: “Everything demonstrates that Macedonio de la Torre is the sovereign owner of a truly great and original esthetic.”
Thank you Vallejo. You had to be the one to end this interview.
Lima, february 1955