Joaquín Torres-García was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, on July 28, 1874, to a Uruguayan mother and a Catalan emigrant father. Although he is considered the father of Latin American Constructivism, he spent over 40 years of his life in the United States and Europe. Due to financial difficulties, his father moved the family to his homeland of Catalonia, Spain, in June 1891. It was there, in the town of Mataró, that Torres-García studied drawing at the Escuela municipal de artes y oficios de Mataró and painting under the artist Josep Vinardell. While he was a student there, he painted in oil, executing landscapes, interiors, and still lifes. In 1892 his family moved to Barcelona, where he attended the Academia de bellas artes before enrolling in the more prestigious Academia Baixas, and frequented the avant-garde artist café Els Quatre Gats, which was the haunt of writers, intellectuals, and artists such as Pablo Picasso. During this time he made the acquaintance of the architect Antoni Gaudí, with whom he collaborated, from about 1903 to 1907, on the Templo expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia and the stained glass windows of the cathedral of Palma de Mallorca.
In 1918 he started to design wood toys as an extension of his teaching assignments; these toys integrated very simple forms into highly complex constructions, an early example of what he would do in his later Constructivist art production. He continued to design them after his move to New York in 1920, and they were manufactured for sale in 1922 after he returned to Europe that year. He settled in Paris in 1926, and after a rejection from the 1928 Salon d’automne, began to experiment with Constructivism, creating his first truly Constructivist works in 1929. His mature work from this latter period delicately balances natural and plastic elements, often containing signs that reference the indigenous cultures of South America. Late in 1929, Torres-García met Piet Mondrian, and along with Michel Seuphor the three later founded the movement Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square). The group went public in 1930 with an eponymous journal and a group exhibition of 46 Constructivist artists at Galerie 23, Paris. The main goal of Cercle et Carré was to provide an artistic alternative to the dominant Parisian movement of Surrealism, and the association served as a forum for abstract artists to explore their ideas. Torres-García ultimately left the group in 1930 after several disagreements with Seuphor.
After a short period of time in Madrid, where he exhibited, taught, and gave lectures, Torres-García returned to Uruguay in April 1934. There he founded the Asociación de arte constructivo (Association of Constructivist Artists) and published the journal Circulo y cuadrado, which introduced the avant-garde art movements of Cubism, Neoplasticism, and Constructivism to artists in his home country. He published extensively on the theory of art, and partly due to his 1935 call for artists to invert the traditional hierarchy of art by placing Latin America before Europe in his text Escuela del sur (School of the South), has many Latin American followers.
Torres-García had several one-person shows, including those at the Museo de arte moderno, Madrid (1933); Musée national d’art moderne, Paris (1955); Museo de bellas artes, Caracas, Venezuela (1980 and 1997); and the Sala Torres-García at the So Paulo Biennial (1959 and 1991). Torres-García died on August 8, 1949, in Montevideo.