One of the most prominent figures in 20th-century Mexican art, painter and printmaker Rufino Tamayo is known for his eclectic style and prolific career. He developed a keen interest in Cubism, Surrealism, Fauvism and other contemporary movements in his early years, while his engagement in the National Museum of Archaeology prompted his interest in pre-Columbian art.
Being of Zapotecan heritage, Tamayo got inspired to explore and use folk ornaments from Mexico in combination with contemporary styles he held in high regard. Although his name is often mentioned alongside the names of great muralists and revolutionaries Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco in terms of importance, Tamayo was actually against the political ideas the former two artists propagated. Instead of the grand ideas the murals of Rivera and Orozco depicted, Tamayo advocated a more artistic approach to painting, with focus on culture and aesthetic. His anti-revolutionary political views alienated him from Mexican society and Tamayo and his wife Olga moved out of the country, living in New York and Paris for almost three decades. He returned to Mexico in 1974 where he founded the Museo Tamayo in the capital and Museo Rufino Tamayo in his hometown of Oaxaca.
Building his body of work, Rufino Tamayo developed a particular style featuring abstracted figuration, vernacular subjects, and limited, earthy palette. One of his greatest contributions to the history of art is found in his oeuvre of about 80 Mixografia prints, created with a technique he developed to incorporate thicker texture into a two-dimensional paper artwork. Many of his works are today part of renowned collections around the world, including the one of MoMA, Art Institute of Chicago and Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
An interesting event related to Rufino Tamayo occurred in 2007 - his 1970 painting “Tres Personajes” brought over $1 million dollars at a Sotheby’s auction. What is intriguing is that the said painting was considered stolen and lost since 1987, until a woman found it in the trash can in New York City. She felt that the piece “had power” and wasn’t just an ordinary image. It turned out to be the find of her life since she received a handsome finders-fee and a portion of the auction sale.
Born in 1899 in Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico, Rufino Tamayo died at the age of 91 in Mexico City.
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