Rufino Tamayo was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, on August 25, 1899, and died on June 24, 1991, in Mexico City. He worked on muralism, graphic arts and easel painting, this technique being the most abundant of his production, in which in a very personal way he worked on still life, where the intense red and orange watermelons were a recurring theme.
As an artist, Tamayo began his academic training at a very early age, in his native country, which he abandoned very soon due to the strict discipline required by the institution in which he had enrolled, the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Carlos. Since then, he became a self-taught artist, directing his aesthetic search towards the roots of the pre-Hispanic culture -of which he was a direct descendant, since he was the son of Zapotec Indigenous-, as well as Mexican popular art, manifestations in which he warns that the source of his artistic work was found; In the same way, he was interested in studying the first European artistic avant-gardes, such as expressionism, cubism, and surrealism, currents that offer him creative freedom, which he also discovers in pre-Hispanic art, as we can see in the following statement:
“I tried to forget what I had learned at the School of Fine Arts; I even hardened my hand to start over. I began to deform things, always thinking of pre-Hispanic art. Their proportions were not the classic ones taught in school; certainly, the beauty of the human body is not found in the measure of seven heads. In pre-Hispanic art there is absolute freedom when it comes to proportions”.
Tamayo, along with Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco, participated in the important Mexican muralist movement that emerged in 1920, whose intention was to exalt the country, glorify its history, its identity, its indigenous roots, its struggles - conquest, colonization, independence and Mexican Revolution-, as well as bringing art to public buildings so that the people knew, enjoyed and remembered its origins, resulting in an artistic movement with a marked discourse of ideological, political and nationalist content. This philosophy on which Mexican muralism is based discouraged Tamayo and forced him to distance himself from it.
Tamayo, from his break with the ideological and aesthetic postulates of this movement, which he also considered worn out and in full decline, oriented his production in a different direction, against the current of revolutionary muralism, which was characterized by being innovative, in search of an aesthetic interpretation of his indigenous roots and his links with pre-Hispanic America, through a more personal visual poetry, without any political commitment, focused on the formal elements of visual expression, which is beginning to be evidenced in his first mural made in 1933, commissioned by the Conservatorio Nacional de México.
With the purpose of enriching his artistic knowledge, in 1938 he traveled to New York, a city where he remained for twenty years, a stay that was significant in the consolidation of his artistic training. In fact, the critics consider that in this period he distanced himself from European art -although we would rather say that he gave it a very personal touch- to begin an artistic career marked by originality and a decidedly personal search, in which he improves his technique, his style, thus defining his unmistakable visual discourse inspired by the forms and symbolism of pre-Hispanic culture and art in close dialogue with his interpretation of European avant-garde; Hence, the artist said around 1956 that: "My feeling is Mexican, my color is Mexican, my shapes are Mexican, but my concept is a mixture."
This was precisely one of the contributions that Tamayo managed to make in the artistic field, integrating, merging, and syncretizing the indigenous and popular Mexican tradition with European artistic modernity, thus creating a universal visual discourse without the need to be narrative, realistic, or anecdotal, but rather suggestive, where color, light and matter prevail, merely visual elements of local and foreign inspiration, without fighting each other.
His most important mural work is in Mexico: "Day and night"; Puerto Rico: “Prometheus”; United States of America: “America"; and Paris: “UNESCO Fresco”.
Written by José Gregorio Noroño