Josep Robert Torrent Prats

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Scholars, critics and art historians have described him as «the painter of Menorca». He was introduced and known outside the island as the painter of Menorca, not only because he was considered its representative painter, but also because many people believed he was the singer, the poet of his native island. A layman looking at a painting signed by Torrent will surely ask: Which Menorca? The painting will answer with another question: What does one pose before a painting?
Torrent was born in Ciutadella on 8 September 1904. He contemplated Majorca, breathed the Parisian air and the Cantabrian coast, lost himself along Florida’s paths; but he lived in Ciutadella, never farther away from Costa Nova.
Torrent’s life journey spanned throughout the 20th century; but he would not become a painter until mid-century, as his vocation was a late one; but God forbid, how prolific and copious!
Torrent did not paint what his eyes saw, he captured what he felt: not the fleeting, ever-changing vision of an environment, but the thoughtful, mature reflection inspired by the gaze of a scene, of a landscape. His visions do not belong to any particular moment in history, instead they represent all of them; they are a finished story that can illuminate any moment in history. In his paintings, the Menorcan landscape is pervaded by a rare and ancestral imprint through a better, even hostile, monochromatic perception, which would print character on his work for decades. His original interpretation of fences, dry walls, Menorcan barriers, defining Menorca in an unusual way, contrasted with those painfully bare trees, like pitchforks furiously nailed to the ground, replacing the tight, dark hair of Menorcan pine trees and wild olive trees; all this gives him a strong personality. The elements that define the abstraction of this Menorcan landscape are a translation of his own language. By interpreting a language, we can read it, because, in fact, before his paintings, the viewer feels compelled both to look and to read, to decipher what Torrent wants to say.
Curious, inquisitive, like any artist who needs to explore in order to enrich this language, Torrent moved to Paris. His stay at the European capital of art and the confrontation with the most up-to-date techniques and trends meant a profound upheaval in Torrent’s aesthetic ideas. But rather than these new schools, which were often temporary fashions, it was the introduction of colour as an essential element of Impressionist painting and the trends that emerged from it that set the guidelines he followed. Pointillism, Van Gogh and Utrillo were evoked in his canvases during his time in Paris. His work aroused general interest and the amazement of many people. Astonishment due to his stylistic unity, the indefinable charm of his palette, the richness of his themes, his sense of rhythm, and his painting’s dynamism, which turns into the logical result of cooperation between line and colour.
At the end of 1964 he travelled along the Cantabrian coast. Each journey brought, in addition to new experiences, a new interpretation of colour and drawing. Perspectives were never discovered, only sensed. The technique of flat colours, landscapes seen from very pronounced angles, with hardly any visible horizons, the absence of shadows (he always forgot to paint them, as he used to reply when someone pointed out this anomaly), the removal of chiaroscuro, were aggressively imposed on the viewer’s retina. The superimposition of colours adds a sense of depth that sketching cannot provide.
He asserted that a model, whether a figure or a landscape, was only a guideline, not a purpose.
His painting is based on a very direct visual image of things. In the depths of his exceptional integrity, there is a purity of judgement that allows him to capture the reality that he sees: that is to say, his reality, which he translates, transforming it through his inner reality, to create a chromatic art in which each spot of colour is born from the rich visual experience he has lived.
The idea of extent that Torrent aims to encompass in each canvas demands a high degree of concentration. From one end of the canvas to the other, the painting gives off an extraordinary chromatic sensation, as in the ancient Byzantine mosaics, colours everywhere, tonalities that are fixed, mixed, and melted into the lines.
Then they become objects: hills, fences, walls, trees. As in an orchestral arrangement, each patch of colour gives its sound, interprets its melodic phrase, and personalises its timbre. When the eye takes in all the colours, it is as if the orchestra launches into its own music.
It is no longer a note, a phrase, a timbre, but a single harmony. And as in a work of music, Torrent’s creation unfolds in a succession of rhythms, wavy outlines, chromatic scales that are not meant to lead to a single vanishing point according to the norm, but to allow the viewer to see further.
Mankind, a time-haunted fugitive, who transforms at every moment of life, who from birth to death is dragged along by the constant evolution of feelings, ideas, physique and morality; a pedestrian who can never be stopped by life, who lives to create the illusion of permanence, the unchanging, who works tirelessly to build up something solid: beliefs and monuments. Mankind, a transitory being, is focused on eternity; a relative being, who always dreams of the absolute; within the inexorable dissolution of things, struggling to leave a trace, something everlasting, a work that binds it to the mirage of defeated death.
That is the reason why Torrent painted, without rest. And eventually his painting expressed more and more that need to affirm itself as a link between the ephemeral transit of mankind through its life and permanence.
Gradually, the accessory elements disappear. The compositions become geometric, defined by the dry wall paintings, just sketched out. There is no vegetation, no greenery, just the bareness of an empty land, as if it is loaded with wounds, connected with the descriptions of that surrealist Menorca described in expert words by Màrius Verdaguer, the author of «Pedres i vent» (Stones and Wind). The maturity of his art followed his life’s rhythm, played by many strings, with a wide variety of sounds. In the drawer of his studio he kept newspapers, books, papers, medals and awards that marked his career among his paintings.

A creative career with surprising, strange aspects. Was the humour, the comic vision that he knew how to capture so quickly in any circumstance or moment, an expression of Torrent’s inner peace, or was it a defence, a shield to prevent others from looking inside him?
His life was a series of endearing anecdotes. But…
Where, when was Torrent truly sincere, absolutely sincere? I honestly believe that in his own life, with his painting. Men of creation have always manifested themselves, consciously or unconsciously, through their creations. What do we get when we contemplate a painting by Torrent?
What is the hidden message? Because in his work, in all the rich diversity of the different pictorial periods, there are constant elements, perhaps temporarily abandoned, masked, substituted, but never forgotten. Were his landscapes really as rich, explosive, and glorious as some people have interpreted them?
Wouldn’t it be a more tormented vision when he portrayed a spot on the island with raging yellows, lame browns or absurd blues? Here, the very placidity of the sea, the transparencies achieved with admirable simplicity, take on a dramatic aspect. Why did he never depict the generous scalps of our pine forests? What model of nature inspired him to torture the deciduous fences, with those trees —hieroglyphic, schematic, abstraction— that strike a scene of anguished helplessness?
And why do those figures, sometimes prominent and defined, sometimes dissolved and merged into context, which alone or in groups, but always painfully solitary, characterise his work?
In his last works, these figures become obsessive, in some cases turning into undeniable protagonists who take over the painting, given the strength they transmit.
Is solitude the natural state of mankind? Would this be the underlying message, the secret painfully hidden by a friendly and simple man, cheerful and humble, who said: «Who should I thank, if not the one who can do everything, that others have seen in my work much more than I have? How can I stand before an audience that always expects from me things that I will never be able to achieve?”
Josep Robert Torrent died in Ciutadella on 13th November 1990 at the age of eighty-six.

Gabriel Julià Seguí
Art Historian

José Roberto Torrent Prats is one of the most recognized painters in the Balearic Islands art world bringing strength of color and humanity to his subjects, having experimented with different styles from Impressionism to Expressionism.

Torrent was born in Ciutadella, Menorca, in 1904 and began to dedicate himself seriously to painting at the age of 44 years old.    He worked in diverse areas; shoe maker, inventor, graphic humorist, drawing teacher at the municipal school as well as being head of his family.  His first paintings were categorized as impressionism.   His landscapes are usually populated with people.   From the beginning his paintings are infused with feeling and emotion.   In the beginning he used a palette of dark and brown tones, atmospheric and beautifully executed.  Later, after spending time in Paris, his colors become brighter and stronger, braver, bordering on the expressiveness of Fauvism.

In the 1960s he had success in a dozen painting competitions, including the Ciudad de Palma, Barcelona and Menorca.   Here he obtained recognition as the most eminent menorcan painter.   After his death he was nominated as the Illustrious Son of his city, with a street and school named after him.   His painting had become singular and powerful, featuring a long brushstroke, thick paint and fine detail, abandoning the chiaroscuro and shadows to create depth.   Torrent reinterprets the landscape with freedom and expression.   It is narrative painting, where things happen; stories are told of humble people and hard country.

In the last stage of his life people gain still greater importance in his paintings and he depicts family relationships in street scenes or in landscapes.   It is expressionist painting, with a deep existential feeling, embracing human and Christian values.

Torrent died in 1990 and left an important legacy of paintings that was collected by the Associació d’Amics des Pintor Torrent and exhibited in a personal museum in his beloved Ciutadella.