“I always thought that painting should be born from a tireless exploration and be in open communication with everything that affects other human activities and reality.”

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Rufino Tamayo_©artic.edu

Artists are not just those who possess creativity; they are also those who bring about social upheavals. They are the ones in charge of controlling people’s thinking. Being an artist gives one the feeling that they have the capacity to shape the entire society with a single, well-founded remark.

Early life and Education

Mexican painter Rufino del Carmen Arellanes Tamayo, who is of Zapotec ancestry, is best known for his depictions of contemporary Mexican topics in a synthesis of global avant-garde styles and regional sensitivities. He was born in Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico, on August 25, 1899. 

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A painting of Rufino Tamayo_©colnal

Tamayo painted figurative abstraction with surrealist elements in the middle of the 20th century in both Mexico and New York. It’s well known that his Zapotec ancestry had an early effect. His aunt enrolled Tamayo in the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas in San Carlos in 1917 for his painting studies. He experimented with and was influenced by Fauvism, Impressionism, and other contemporaneous art styles while maintaining a particularly Mexican aesthetic while he was a student.


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The three great muralists of the time—Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros_©Artic.edu

During the latter part of the 20th century, Tamayo, together with the other three outstanding muralists of the era—Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros—brought the Mexican art scene to the attention of the world. He did not, however, employ figurative realism to portray and promote “mexicanidad,” or pride in the distinct ethnic and cultural mix of Mexico, unlike many of his contemporaries. The fact that “mexicanidad” was not precisely defined was significant to Tamayo since he disagreed with the excessive nationalism and patriotism that Rivera, Siqueiros, and Orozco advocated.

He struggled with how to express Mexican identity, attempting to capture “the actual core of Mexicanness” as opposed to “the Mexicanness of anecdote.” In contrast to what figurative realism permitted, Tamayo focused more on experimenting with materials, shapes, and colours, and his figural approach was more broken, schematic, and abstract. Tamayo conceived of life and art as having a worldwide heartbeat by deftly fusing elements from Mexican and foreign sources, such as Cubism and Surrealism: “Art, like civilization, is international.” It’s the outcome of several components, to which we also add our own tone.

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National Museum of Archaeology, History, and Ethnography, Mexico_©Musée National d’Anthropologie

Tamayo was chosen to lead the Department of Ethnographic Drawing at Mexico City’s National Museum of Archaeology, History, and Ethnography in the early years of 1921. He had the chance to thoroughly examine pre colonial artefacts while managing the museum’s collection, and he later used the shapes and natural tones into his early still lifes and portraits. Tamayo started mixing indigenous art’s legendary themes and, increasingly, non-representational imagery into his own work in addition to its physical characteristics.

The Weyhe Gallery in New York hosted Tamayo’s first exhibition of his work there in 1926. Ten years later, the artist relocated to New York, where he made contributions to the vibrant postwar art scene there. He came into contact with European modernism while residing in the city and was strongly influenced by Pablo Picasso’s artwork.


Numerous musicians had an effect on Tamayo. Tamayo learned to choose colours precisely from Mara Izquierdo, a fellow Mexican artist with whom he shared a residence for a while. He chose hues that were appropriate for his native Mexico. “Mexicans are not a homosexual race, but a sad one,” he claimed.

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Tamayo’s painting on pre-Columbian pottery in Lion and Horse_©artnexus

The cultural legacy of Tamayo also had other impacts. One may argue that Tamayo was one of the few painters of his day to embrace the ethnic diversity of Mexico. His love of the blending of Spanish, Mexican, and Indian blood is evident in some of his artwork. Tamayo employed pre-Columbian pottery in Lion and Horse (1942). Tamayo was proud of his Mexican heritage since it fed him, and as a result of his travels, he grew to love Mexico even more.

Tamayo’s original graphic prints, in which he developed every technique, are what will stand as his legacy in the annals of art. Between 1925 and 1991, Tamayo created a variety of graphic works, including woodcuts, lithographs, etchings, and “Mixografia” prints. Tamayo extended the technical and aesthetic potential of the graphic arts by creating a new media they called Mixografia with the assistance of Mexican printer and engineer Luis Remba. A distinctive fine art printing method, this one enables the creation of prints with three-dimensional texture.

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Tamayo’s painting-Dos Personajes Atacados por Perros_©rufinotamayo

In addition to registering the design’s texture and volume, it also gave Rufino Tamayo the ability to utilize any mix of solid materials in its construction. Tamayo produced over 80 unique Mixographs as a result of his joy with the Mixografia technique. Dos Personajes Atacados por Perros is the title of one of their most popular Mixografias (Two Characters Attacked by Dogs).

Style, Concept and Philosophy

Paul Westheim was given the following explanation of Tamayo’s method: “As the number of colours we employ reduces, the wealth of choices grows.” Tamayo preferred using fewer colours in his paintings than more; he believed that this gave the artwork more intensity and depth. 

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Tamayo’s painting- Tres personajes cantando_©rufinotamayo

The 1981 work Tres personajes cantando (Three singers) demonstrates Tamayo’s distinctive use of colour. Tamayo uses only pure colours in this painting, such red and purple, which supports his theory that using fewer colours really expands the composition’s potential rather than restricting it.

Octavio Paz, the author of the book Rufino Tamayo, asserts that Tamayo is a talented colorist, saying, “Time and again we have been taught that Tamayo is a superb colorist, But it should be noted that sobriety is what gives this colour its depth. Tamayo’s paintings weren’t made poorer; rather, they were made richer by being clean or, as Paz put it, sombre with his colour selection.

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Tamayo’s painting- A Woman with a Bird Cage_©rufinotamayo

His mature approach is best exemplified in the Art Institute’s collection’s A Woman with a Bird Cage (1941). This work, which was painted in New York, exemplifies his singular blending of Mexican imagery with global aesthetics including Cubism, Surrealism, and folklorism. It was purchased directly from the artist by the Art Institute not long after it was completed.

A painting by Tamayo- Niños Jugando con Fuego, two children playing with fire_©wikiart

Niños Jugando con Fuego-Children Playing with Fire, a 1947 painting by Rufino Tamayo, depicts two people getting burned by a fire they started themselves. The image is a representation of how the Mexican people may suffer from their own decisions and actions. We are in a hazardous situation, according to Tamayo, and the risk is that what man has made might engulf him and destroy him. Some people labelled him a “traitor” to the political cause because of his political views.

Tamayo was hospitalized for respiratory and cardiac failure on June 12, 1991, at Mexico City’s National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition. On June 24, 1991, he had a heart attack and passed away.

Tamayo continued to produce artwork in his later years up to his death. At that time in his life, he was extremely prolific. After his passing, a number of significant publications and exhibits were organised.


  • Wikipedia.com (October 2021) [Online]

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  • Artic.edu  [Online]

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Ayushi Samarth is a freshly graduate architect. Reading, understanding and writing upon the analysis made have always been the keen interests of Ayushi. She has always been curious in understanding the impact of social issues on architecture and design. Dealing with the theory of user and context interaction with architecture and narrating the story of architecture always has her attention.

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