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The Roots of Constructivism

The artistic and architectural philosophy of Russian origin, Constructivism emerged as a social practice with a major effect on the modern art movement in the 20th Century. Marking developments in film, theatre, and literature as well as being embodied in works of photography, architecture, painting, and design reaching an international peak in the 1920’s. This movement defined an integration of what art and the life of production and industry meant.

This art movement is responsible for capturing a visual environment in which values and social needs are expressed and incorporated where the viewer becomes an active spectator of the art. It is characterised by showing a blend of architecture, industrial design, and typography, including flat colours, creating a geometric language through linear shapes, three-dimensional forms, and an abstract essence which expresses the look and thought that the artist wishes to communicate. It encompasses many aspects of society such as politics, interpersonal relationships, opinions, structures, and other issues.

This movement arose at a political juncture in which Russia sought to present a new image and identity. The interest generated by this philosophy was to capture those ideas of the greatness that socialism represented in Moscow. Employing posters, photographs, and advertisements, which framed the use of colour, lines, and geometric shapes.

A reference and inspirer of this movement was Vladimir Tatlin, who dedicated his life to art and architecture, marked the beginning of this great movement that would go on to spread throughout the world over the years. He had so much relevance in the artistic world that his best-known work is considered a milestone in the history of modern architecture and art. Even without being completed, is the “Monument to the Third International” a tower of constructivist style of about 400 metres high, composed of different geometric elements such as a cube, a cylinder, a pyramid, and a half sphere, which would rotate inside the structure at different speeds marking the time, the day, the month and the year respectively however, only a model of it was ever completed.

It’s purpose was to reflect the achievements and ideology of the Russian Revolution as a symbol of the evolution of the era of progress and modernity and to be the headquarters of the communist organisation, “Communist International”.

Vladimir Tatlin and Russian Constructivism
© DURAN Magazine

A Cultural Odyssey of Constructivism Across Latin America

Constructivism arrived in Latin America through a group of artists who dedicated their lives to the study of different techniques and movements of art. Among the great pioneers of the continent and responsible for reproducing, transforming, and introducing to Latin American cultures what constructivism signifies, the following artists stand out:

Manuel Rendón, born December 1894 of French-Ecuadorian origin, was a renowned poet and painter who managed to transport the constructive movement to Ecuador and other parts of South America from Europe, fusing and exploring different techniques and styles. This artist managed to mark a legacy on the continent influencing several generations of art; his works exhibited in Madrid, São Paulo, Caracas, Quito, and Washington D.C. and were included in the UNESCO exhibition of 1946. The central characteristic of this Rendon’s work is abstract and modern reflecting warmth with sepia tones.

From Brazil we can see the influences on the movement of artists such as Lygia Clark, a native of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Born in 1920, Clark through her works and the continuous search to achieve pieces that were active and participative with the spectator, she created the combination between art and the human body achieving an organic sensibility in her works. Although Clark did not engage in the strict sense of what constructivism signifies, she distinguished herself from classical constructive artists by moving from geometric abstraction to a sensory and participatory experience, positioning herself as important part of the evolution of contemporary art in South America.

Lygia Clark
The Violoncellist (O Violoncelista), 1951
© Courtesy of “The World of Lygia Clark” Cultural Association X.2017.23

As a reference to the north of the American continent, an exponent of abstract art and murals is Carlos Mérida, who influenced and reaffirmed his style with the principles of an avant-garde approach of constructive art. Mérida became a diffusive and illustrious figure of the post-revolutionary artistic movement, giving a glance and conjunction of modern, European, and pre-Columbian influences; in his works, the concern for geometry, form, and colour is reflected in the Russian movement.

A great pioneer of Constructivism in Latin America, specifically in the Rio de la Plata region, was Joaquin Torres Garcia, who dedicated his life to learning art in different parts of the world, belonging to great schools in Italy, Paris, Barcelona, and New York. In 1934 Torres Garcia has returned to his country of origin, Uruguay, as a creator of the true avant-garde, intending to spread the new aesthetics and create schools of Constructive Art.

Torres Garcia
Construcción con triángulo, 1929
© Courtesy of Museo Torres García, Montevideo
Torres Garcia
Pintura Constructiva, 1943
© Courtesy of Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales, Montevideo

Blending Art with Daily Life: The Story of Uruguayan Constructivism

Constructivism in Uruguay has direct roots in the Constructivist Movement in Europe, with the influences of European artists and works, who, in addition to capturing Russian artistic expression, based on geometry. The integration of the arts with everyday life and abstraction, served as a source of inspiration for the continuation of the guidelines of this visual movement; Torres Garcia with his return to the country managed to instil the bases of constructivism learned in his artistic life.

This is how he formed a national movement in the year 1935 called the Constructive Art Association which starred in a crucial point of diffusion for this philosophy in Uruguay. García recruited several artists interested in the practice such as Julio Dupuy, Augusto Torres his son, Manuel Espínola Gómez among others, to promote the defence of the nexus between art and architecture and also the integration of geometric abstraction in art.

Another of the foundations of constructivism in Uruguayan society was the creation of the Taller Torres Garcia, which functioned as a workshop for teaching and working with art and collective painting. It was an important and significant starting point where the training of young artists commenced, intending to have a significant influence on abstract art in the country and continue to transmit constructivist principles to the following generations.

The great influence of Constructivism in artistic and cultural authenticity of Uruguay is reflected in the identity and aspirations of the country. It not only manifested itself in the visual arts, but also influenced the artistic education and aesthetic philosophy of the time. This movement shaped a harmonious relationship between architecture, art, and design in different environments.

Cultural Transfer in Uruguayan Currency

Since its creation in 1967, the Central Bank of Uruguay has been exclusively in charge of issuing banknotes and minting coins. The Central Bank issues banknotes with a fairly classic appearance with a historical journey of personalities in various social and cultural fields, as well as representations of monumental architecture, arts and literature. The design of the series that circulates from 1994 to the present contains a more modern style than the previous series, that is, the colour and the security funds as a whole. The Art Fiduciaire gives a touch of the influence of the modern style on banknotes. In 1998, Series A highlighted the first banknote in Latin America in homage to Constructivist Art.

Leaving an outstanding legacy and considered a central figure in modern art, the $5 (Uruguayan pesos) banknote was created as a tribute to the artist’s contributions to society and cultural identity. The obverse of the banknote shows the effigy of the master J. Torres García and on the reverse a constructivist creation of his “Pintura Constructiva, 1943” painted in 1943, reflecting the essence and structure of the city, an oil painting of primary colours with a dense and greyish tonality.

However, the general aesthetic appearance of this $5 Pesos banknote was related to the series and style in which the denominations of $10, $20, $50, $100, $200, $500, $1000 and $2000 designed by the English company, De la Rue design team, issued between 1994 and 2003.

Uruguayan 5 Pesos 1998 banknote
© Banknote Art Concept

Tracing the Evolution of Constructivism Through Time

Following the lines of the Constructivist school, Walter Deliotti was one of the artists who continued to mark constructivist art in the last century, under the influence of the master Torres García.

Accustomed to painting on bricks, canvas, and wood, Deliotti announces in his works all the qualities of the city of Montevideo, exhibiting its noises, structures, culture, lifestyle, of the city in the geometry of his works. The application of this technique not only reflects the European lines that mark its origin, but allows the fusion of unique elements that identify the place to which he pays homage. In the case of W. Deliotti, following the Constructive Universalism of Torres García, the colours, the wind and the light of the Rio de la Plata are evident in his works.

Among his main creations is “Construcción Portuaria” where he depicts the environment of the city and the port life of the 20th Century; it demonstrates the different tonalities that decorate the port of Montevideo, its diverse structures, and hectic industrial life.

The symbolic details present in it: the letter “M”, visible on the chimney of a modern bank, represents the firm McCormick, a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, representing a thriving industrialised society. The number “501” generally symbolises science. “AMADET” was the name of the city’s trolleybus network. “S” for the initial of the name of his wife Susana, to whom he dedicated this mural. The clock marked 5 o’clock is reminiscent of Federico García Lorca’s poem “Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejías” (source: Sonia Bandrymer, “Walter Deliotti – Construcción Portuaria“, 2014).

The work of this artist served as inspiration for the directors of the Central Bank of Uruguay, who admired Deliotti’s trajectory and particularly this piece, which at the time had been inventive for four decades, generating an illusion and a sense of identity and belonging. The work represents the analogy of what this entity encompasses and also its spatial location. Another reason why it went from being an author’s painting to a representative mural is the conjunction of the creation of this painting and the birth of the Central Bank del Uruguay.

Walter Deliotti
Mural: Construcción Portuaria, 2013
© Courtesy of Banco Central del Uruguay

An Award-winning Banknote Inspired by Constructivist Art

In 2013, an artistic project was created that led to the splendid Art Fiduciaire banknote piece being transformed into a large mural, which became the image that represented the institution as a way of expressing its cultural, philosophical, and visual identity.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Central Bank’s founding, with a commemorative banknote, on the reverse, the design features the splendid artwork called “Construcción Portuaria” by Walter Deliotti, one of the most representative works of constructivism by this artist.

This banknote was designed by Venezuelan artist and banknote designer Carlos Almenar from CCL Secure Australia, originated and printed by the French company Oberthur Fiduciaire, where he represents in this work of Art Fiduciaire a revolutionary banknote, not only for its aesthetic appearance, but for the polymer substrate used, where a transparent window and half windows were suitable to represent the map of Uruguay and the emblem of the 50 years of the Banco Central del Uruguay.

This design, with predominant blue colour, contains lines and elements of Constructivism Art that in turn is embedded within the large mural of the artist Walter Deliotti. “It is a completely minimalist and content design where geometry and symbolism have an important value,” states Carlos Almenar. The idea is to show how art evolves and continues to be present in Uruguayan society, who can not only admire the great mural when entering the building of this institution, but handle the legacy of the different techniques, influences, and artistic philosophies in such ordinary and day-to-day matters as money. Due to its design and innovation, this banknote was awarded in 2019 the best commemorative banknote in Latin America.

This commemoration and numismatic project not only focused on the art of the banknote, it was then transferred to a .900 silver 2000 Pesos coin, colour proof in the symbol of the sun and a fragment of Walter Deliotti’s Constructivist mural, achieving a strong image of the economy linked to art through five decades of commitment, stability and closeness of Uruguayan society towards the projection of the Central Bank of the future.

Commemorative baknote 50 Pesos - Uruguay Image © Banknote Art Concept
Uruguayan 50 Pesos 2018 commemorative banknote
Image © Banknote Art Concept
Uruguayan 2000 Pesos commemorative silver coin
Image © Banknote Art Concept