Macedonio de la Torre

Por Luis Enrique Tord

Life never ceased to amaze him. Every day, it was as if he were recently discovering it. He brimmed with vitality and insisted in trapping the shapes that made his imagination restless with his thin, expressive hands. Macedonio is a classic example of absolute dedication to art. There was never a day- since he was born on January 27, 1893- that he failed to demonstrate through his gestures and attitudes that he was an individual whose life and work would forever be confused amongst the anecdotes, passions, adventures and notable itineraries that were such a part of his life.

It was already a great deal- yet not sufficient- that his first intellectual impressions were forged within the heart of a decided, cultivated and rebellious generation. The “Grupo Norte,” made up of Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, the poet César Vallejo, the essayist Antenor Orrego, the writers Oscar Imaña y Alcides Spelucín and the composers Carlos Valderrama and Gustavo Romero Lozada stirred up the village atmosphere of the reposed and aristocratic city. Some accomplished this with their verses, others with their prose and still others with their language. The there was Macedonio, who contributed his violin renditions of Mozart and Chopin during evening gatherings. It was at these social meetings that Macedonio first stunned his friends with his modernist sculptures.

This anarchist and gallant bohemia, his first and only love-Adriana Romero Bello-, and the old Moche passage of Trujillo left deep imprints on his subsequent work. Later, he came to Lima and attempted studies in Philosophy and Arts at the University of San Marcos. Macedonio, however, was not suited to patient research or pedagogy and even less so to jurisprudence. His indecision was resolved in an original and executive style: “I ran two laps around the main patio at the University. I told myself that if at the end of the second lap I ended up in front of the room where the jury slated to administer my exam was waiting, I would stay at the University. On the contrary, if I ended up at the exit, I would never return and instead dedicate my life to art and travel.” We all know which direction he took.

He also took his trips seriously, so much so that a few days after the budding painter left for Buenos Aires. His route was unusual: more than 300 kilometers on foot. He made the rest of the trip on precarious buses, in private cars and even on the roof of a trans-Andean train. In the Argentine capital, his life was austere and his jobs were outlandish. One of these “jobs” was?? Playing the violin every night in an Italian restaurant….dressed like a Tzigane.

Back in Peru, he married his fiancée from Trujillo and later made what would be a fundamental journey in his life- his trip to Europe. He traveled to France, Belgium, Germany and Italy until finally setting up residence in Paris. He passionately observed the impressionist masters, the great works of art in museums and private collections and the plastic novelties in the galleries. Vallejo was his preferred companion. Several things united the pair: a youth spent in Trujillo, art, life in Paris between wars and a special bond: bloodlines. Don Joaquín de Mendoza, a Spaniard, had established this kinship in Santago de Chuco. The descendants of this line were Adelaida Collard Mendoza, Macedonio´s mother, and María de los Santos Mendoza, mother of the author of “Los Heraldos Negros.”

Vallejo wrote about Macedonio´s activities in Paris in 1929 for the magazine “Mundial”: “During the four years that he has spent in Europe, he has never wished to return home in the standard manner of other young men from America; instead, he has stayed in the middle of the world to study, meditate and produce like honorable men and authentic artists. He hasn’t gone to any exhibition rooms. He has written nothing for newspapers. He has attended no guild gatherings.... He was absorbed in a profound and intimate esthetic introspection and practiced the most austere moral discipline in his life as an artist and as a man. He is in the process of preparing truly great and pure work. Nevertheless, Macedonio de la Torre- after having sent a painting to the Autumn Room at the urging of his friends- has elicited debate amongst the French critics worthy of a renovator in painting.” The poet ended by affirming: “Everything demonstrates that Macedonio de la Torre is the sovereign owner of a truly original and great esthetic.”

During his stay in Europe, he has achieved beautiful figurative compositions, penetrating portraits and audacious presentations that situate him on the cutting edge of an abstractionism that, once he had returned to Peru, would revitalize the plastic environment. Around 1930, he held expositions in Lima and became the undisputable presenter of new pictorial concepts. It was an opportune gale wind at a time when indigenism was in full swing. Years later, his exhibitions in Lima and abroad became more frequent, and he eventually became a great success in New York.

When referring to a specific area in Macedonio´s work- landscape painting- it is appropriate to cite Juan Manuel Ugarte Eléspuru: “Amongst the landscape artists that do not belong to the indigenist tendency, Macedonio de la Torre stands out the most. This individual is a poetic and inspired painter of coastal sandy areas and of the mysteries of far away places covered by sendals of fog.” It is important to add here that a sensation of gray and golden vastness is always present in his landscapes, which is more than likely the result of his initial fixations with the northern valleys that are impregnated by the desolation of ancient cultures baked by the sun.”

Another original tendency of his work are the colorful surfaces penetrated by long, restless and personal strokes. These movements, these rivers of color, provoke a vegetal impression that leads the spectator to refer to them as “Macedonio´s” jungles. These are unmistakable expressions of his style. This is also splendidly displayed in his still lifes and in his exuberant multicolored flower arrangements that, in a burst of life and youth, brim over the sides of golden jars or porcelain amphora.

Today, at the age of 86, Macedonio continues to make the trip to his atelier. He wears a smile and is armed with the conviction that today he will produce better work than yesterday. We, his nieces and nephews, admire him with the same enthusiasm and warmth that we displayed thirty years ago when he sat with us in gardens to teach us how to make birds, sailboats and fantastic figures with rustic pebbles that no one had paid attention to before. Macedonio also showed us how to fashion pieces from the very white seagull bones that he had found on the beaches where he had sought solitude and color. I hope these words reach him in the tone of an admirer who, since childhood, has been fortunate enough to appreciate the greatness of art in the company of the most unaffected of artists.

Lima, September 1976