Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tamayo, Rufino

0il on canvas
76.5 x 101.6 cm
The Musem of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA
-Fair use-

Painted on the eve of America's entry into World War II, while Tamayo was living in New York, this pair of snarling dogs captures, in the words of fellow Mexican painter Juan Soriano, "that horror before a world that was turning to stone before our eyes." Set against an eerily vacant yellow backdrop bathed in a red glow, the dogs, with their fangs bared, strike an anxious note, while the pale-blue bones near their paws suggest death or carnage. The subject matter was likely inspired not only by contemporary events but by pre-Columbian terracotta burial sculptures. In Aztec and Maya mythology, dogs were considered guides to the underworld, and statues of them were often buried with members of the ruling class. (MoMA)

"Art is a way of expression that has to be understood by everyone, everywhere."

Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) is a Mexican painter of Zapotec descent. He was born in Oaxaca but following the death of his parents in 1911, he went to live with his aunt in Mexico City. He studied at the Escuela des Artes Plasticas, and in 1921 was appointed head of the Department of Ethnographic Drawing at the Archaeological Museum, which introduced him to folk art.

His paintings and graphics have acquired a decisive importance in contemporary art in terms both of its high quality, maintained throughout a long, intense life, and its special significance. He was very clearly one of the greatest of American creators and, at the same time, one of the artists who managed to penetrate deepest into the reality of today's Man, going beyond his historical dimension.

His own paintings draw on Mexican folk art and ceramics for their themes and in their rich use of color and texture, but their sophisticated compositions are more closely indebted to Cubism. In the 1930s he painted tropical fruits, perhaps influenced by his experiences as a child working for his aunt's wholesale fruit business. Later his imagery became more grotesque, dominated by animals. From the mid 1940s onwards, he moved towards abstraction and placed greater emphasis on his use of strong colors.

His knowledge of the great pre-Columbian cultures allowed him to make an extraordinary synthesis which forms part of a universalist conception of art. He sought the essential, which he expressed through a deliberately limited range of colors in order to give the freest possible rein to tonal interplay. His subject matter tends to be simple - figures of men and women, animals -, almost sketchy, although charged with content. He was an outsider in post Revolutionary Mexico, politically neutral and opposing the muralists' commitment to a public, popular art.