Toral, Mario – Chile

1934 | Latin American Art


He was born in the city of Santiago de Chile in 1934. He left home at a very young age, travelling first to Argentina and then to Uruguay, where he completed his artistic studies at the National School of Fine Arts. There he received the teaching of the constructivist movement that was strongly rooted in the country. In 1957 he travelled to Paris, where he would complete his training in Henri Adam’s workshop. He was to live and work in the city for seven years.

He finally returned to Chile after fourteen years, where he was to develop his artistic career as a painter, illustrator, muralist and documentary filmmaker, whilst teaching at Santiago’s Pontifical Catholic University.

In 1973 he travelled to New York where he settled until 1992, when he returned to Chile; he still maintains his second residence in the United States.

Toral was the creator and first Dean of the Faculty of Arts of the Finis Terrae University and he has been a Full Member of the Academy of Fine Arts of the Institute of Chile since 1996.



With regard to plastic arts, since the very beginning Mario Toral has been interested in representing the human body and movement in his work. He uses nudes and the fragmentation of forms to represent the constant transformation of the human being. Also present in his discourse are symbolism, the use of metaphor, spirituality and themes linked to national identity and the concept of “authentic” Latin American art.

Through his works and documentaries, Toral explores the concepts of identity, heritage and the reality of native communities, their symbols, and traditions. The artist use memory to recover the originality of Chilean identity, reflected in his works.

Several stages can be identified in his work in direct relation to his life. His first stage, between 1957 and 1958, was given the name “Reliefs”, in which he focused on investigating textures based on materials that formed reliefs, imbuing the work with telluric connotations.

Paris saw his period of “Totems” (1958-1965), in which he spoke of Latin American memory based on a symbolic and schematic language, with works in which he prioritised the material, closer to abstract expressionism.

Back in Chile, he developed the “Towers of Babel” series (1965-1969), with geometric shapes that enclose human faces. Between 1969 and 1974 he produced “Women and Stones, Tomorrow’s World, Faces”, the result of the contrasts he encountered in the city of New York, which were translated into monumental works and transparent architecture.

In the 1970s, also as a result of a trip to Spain, he produced “Prisoners of Stone” (1974-1977), in which he explored concepts like infinity, timelessness and human nature, and concentrated in particular on his watercolour techniques, all of which are of great importance for his later great works on memory.

After creating “People and their Struggle” (1977-1979), he made “Masks” (1979-1981), where he combined his texture work with the representation of flying human heads, depicted in a hieratic manner and using expressionist language. These are followed by “Bodies and Masks” (1981-1984), in which he continued to work with fragmented bodies, in this case female bodies with cosmic and mythological symbols linked to Latin American traditions.
Within his oeuvre, his murals stand out in projects like MetroArte, where he carried out his great work “A Visual Memory of a Nation”, located in the University of Chile metro station.

With this monumental work, Toral attempts to recover the collective memory of all peoples so that they feel equally identified. It represents historical events, geography, indigenous mythology and specific figures from the indigenous imaginary (indigenous heroes, poets, presidents…). As a whole, it is a journey from the origins, through the pre-Hispanic past, the conquest, the constitution of a republican State to the present and modernity.

Within the part dedicated to the Past is the panel of the “Ancient Settlers”, which includes the representation of the work “The creation of the world according to the Mapuche mythology”, the preparatory canvas of which is part of the Ralli Collection.

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GODOY, C. G. (2007). “Memoria Visual de una Nación: la identidad revisitada”. Revista Chilena de Antropología Visual (9), Santiago. Pages: 120-144. ISSN-e 0717-876X. Available at: [Date of access: 02/03/2022]

Exhibition catalogue Memoria Visual de una nación: Los Conflictos. Edited by the National Museum of Chile. 2016.  

Official website of the artist:

Website of the Santiago Metro:

[Date of access for all links: 02/03/2022]