Rufino Tamayo, El Flautista, 1944. Óleo sobre tela, 114.4 x 94.5 cm, IBM Corporation. Armonk. New York.

Rufino Tamayo: First Came the Paintings, then Came the Revolution

Rufino Tamayo, Venus fotogénica, 1935. Óleo sobre tela. 75 x 100 cm. Museo de Arte Moderno de México. México.

Rufino Tamayo, Heavenly Bodies, 1946, Oil with sand on canvas, 86.3 x 105 cm, Guggenheim, Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

Rufino Tamayo, Academic Painting, 1935, Oil on canvas, 25-3/4 X 21-7/8", Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966, Accession Number: 66.4873.

Rufino Tamayo, Woman with Black Coiffe, (1946), Watercolor on paper, 24-3/16 X 18-3/16", Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966, Accession Number: 66.4871.


Miami Art Museum
101 West Flagler Street
Upper Level Gallery
Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted

June 24-September 23, 2007

The retrospective A Modern Icon Reinterpreted brings together approximately 100 of the best canvases made by Rufino Tamayo over a long and productive career that spanned seven decades. The largest section profiles the most notable period of Tamayo’s career, the 1940s and 1950s, when he developed a new form of abstract figuration that made him one of the most recognized and respected modern painters. The exhibition seeks not only to present a careful selection of Tamayo’s finest works, but also to offer a contemporary reinterpretation of this world-renowned artist.

Rufino Tamayo (August 26, 1899-June 24, 1991) was born to Zapotecan Indian parents. He is one of the most world-renowned Mexican artists. As a boy in school, he spent most of his time drawing, which caused his aunt to withdraw him from classes and put him to work as a vendor in her fruit business. Tamayo continued to spend time at the National Museum in Mexico City, drawing archaeological treasures, especially the pre-Columbian objects, which influenced his art for the rest of his life.

Tamayo believed in the universality of painting, which put him in direct opposition to the other well-known group of Mexican artists of the time: the muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siquieros. Tamayo’s modern styles made him a object of ridicule for the muralists, who felt that painting should continue to serve revolutionary ideals, even though the Mexican Revolution had occurred in 1910. Siquieros’s cry that "ours is the only path" caused the following retort from Tamayo in 1981 at a talk before the opening of the Rufino Tamayo Museum in Mexico City: "Can you believe that, to say that ours is the only path when the fundamental thing in art is freedom! In art, there are millions of paths — as many paths as there are artists."

Rufino Tamayo’s standing in twentieth century Mexican art is markedly different from that of "Los tres grundes," Mexico ’s muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Unlike Tamayo, the murl­ists dedicated their art to the promotion of the Mexican Revolution’s socialist ideals. Tamayo painted on an easel and his models were the masters of Modern Art, Picasso, Cezanne, and Braque. His subjects, however, however abstractly treated, were Mexican to the core. A serious collector of Pre-Columbia Mexican art, Tamayo, whether living in New York , Paris , or Mexico City , tried to find the soul of a modern Mexico in the sculptures of its pre-European past. Likewise, his colors owed nothing to the European artists who interested him, but reflected the skies, earths, and landscapes of Mexico as well as the dyes used in Mexican clothes. Rufino Tamayo divorced himself and his art from politics, ardently believing that his art should be painted for art’s sake.

Rufino Tamayo was interested in depicting the human figure as early as his academic training in the 1920s. As Tamayo became more interested in European modernism, his method of painting evolved. While living in Mexico , he was very interested in depicting the everyday lives of Mexican peasants. The intent of this imagery was not to convey socio-political messages. Tamayo simply was interested in representing Mexican subjects. It was in the early 1940s that Tamayo, painting the human figure, began breaking it up into fragments. During this period he became more interested in the development of a composition, intensifying the geome­try and color abstraction of its figures. The use of dark earth tones dominated his artwork through the 1940s. Le flautista is an extraordinary painting which celebrates Tamayo’s expert use of color incorporating blues, greens, ochres and browns.

The lyrical painting El flautista was painted in 1944, an era when Tamayo had developed his own pictorial language separate from that of the other Mexican modernists. Tamayo’s unique interpretation of figures through geometric color abstraction places him in the international cadre as one of our century’s masters.

El flautista is a key painting in that the artist is still rendering the human in a figurative manner. One can see upon close examination, that a rhythmic pattern of ochres and browns have been placed successively in order to delineate the torso. The arms and legs of the flutist have been reduced to simple complementary geo­metric shapes which also define the body. The shawl which drapes from the shoulder has been abstracted to simple rectangles and trapezoids. Finally, the earth on which the flute player sits has been reduced to a brown rectangle and the horizon and sky are a deep burnt orange.

Musicians, fruit vendors, and still lifes were preferred subjects of the artist, reappearing in his compositions throughout his seventy-four year career. The bowl of fruit which rests to the flutist’s left side is another favorite device of Rufino Tamayo. After the artist was orphaned as a child, he moved to Mexico City to live with his aunt, where he assisted her selling fruit in the market. This experience undoubtedly left a lifelong impression on the artist as he depicted fruit, especially the watermelon, in many of his compositions.

Tamayo and another artist, Lea Remba, were the first artists to create a new type of printed artwork called "mixografía". This consisted of artwork printed on paper but with depth and texture. One of their most famous mixografías is entitled Dos Personajes Atacados por Perros ("Two Characters Attacked by Dogs").

Although he had made many lithographs, including series on the Apocalypse and series on Mexican women, Tamayo began to experiment with etchings late in his life. In 1974 he began working at the Mixografia Workshop in Mexico City, where he combined molded relief printing with lithography, usually beginning by making a lithographic tone plate, working in wax, which was then used as a model for copper plates, and printing them on top of the lithographic background, producing a rich, three-dimensional surface. In 1979 and 1980, Tamayo worked at Ediciones Poligrafa in Barcelona , combining carborundum plates (copper plates sculpted with epoxy resins, and etching.

Tamayo also painted murals, some of which — including Nacimiento de la nacionalidad (Birth of the Nationality), 1952 — are displayed inside Mexico City's Palacio de Bellas Artes opera house. His art has also been shown in U.S. museums such as The Phillips Collection in Washington and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

The Tamayo Contemporary Art Museum (Museo Tamayo de Arte Contemporáneo), located on Paseo de la Reforma as it crosses Chapultepec Park, was opened in 1981 as a repository for the collections that Rufino and his wife, Olga, acquired during their lifetimes and ultimately gifted to the nation.

Rufino Tamayo, Women of Tehuantepec, 1939, Oil on canvas, 86 x 145 cm, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo.

Rufino Tamayo, Children's Games, 1959, Oil on canvas, 130.2 x 194.9 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph E. Colin, 1983, © Estate of Rufino Tamayo.


Rufino Tamayo, Solitary, 1970, Oil on linen, 51-3/8 X 38-3/8", Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Gift of Adele and Mortimer C. Lebowitz, 1991, Accession Number: 91.64.