Rufino Tamayo (August 25, 1899 – June 24, 1991) was a Mexican painter of Zapotec heritage, born in Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico. Tamayo was active in the mid-20th century in Mexico and New York, painting figurative abstraction with surrealist influences.
After his parents’ death, Tamayo moved to Mexico City to live with his aunt. However, after a while, Tamayo’s aunt enrolled him at Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas at San Carlos in 1917 to study art. As a student, he experimented with and was influenced by Cubism, Impressionism and Fauvism, among other popular art movements of the time, but with a distinctly Mexican feel. Although Tamayo studied drawing at the Academy of Art at San Carlos as a young adult, he became dissatisfied and eventually decided to study on his own. That was when he began working for José Vasconcelos at the Department of Ethnographic Drawings (1921).
After the Mexican Revolution, Tamayo devoted himself to creating a distinct identity in his work. He expressed what he envisioned as the traditional Mexico and eschewed the overt political art of such contemporaries as José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, Oswaldo Guayasamin and David Alfaro Siqueiros. He disagreed with these muralists in their belief that the revolution was necessary for the future of Mexico but considered, instead, that the revolution would harm Mexico. In his painting, Niños Jugando con Fuego (Children Playing with Fire, 1947), Tamayo shows two individuals being burnt by a fire they have created, a symbol of the Mexican people being injured by its own choice and action. Due to his opinion, he was characterized by some as a “traitor” to the political cause. Tamayo came to feel that he could not freely express his art; he therefore decided in 1926 to leave Mexico and move to New York.
Rufino Tamayo’s legacy in the history of art lies in his oeuvre of original graphic prints in which he cultivated every technique. Rufino Tamayo’s graphic work, produced between 1925 and 1991, includes woodcuts, lithographs, etchings and “Mixografia” prints. With the help of Mexican painter and engineer Luis Remba, Tamayo expanded the technical and aesthetic possibilities of the graphic arts by developing a new medium which they named Mixografia. This technique is a unique fine art printing process that allows for the production of prints with three-dimensional texture. It not only registered the texture and volume of Rufino Tamayo’s design but also granted the artist freedom to use any combination of solid materials in its creation. Rufino Tamayo was delighted with the Mixografia process and created some 80 original Mixographs. One of their most famous Mixografia is titled Dos Personajes Atacados por Perros (Two Characters Attacked by Dogs).
Uncomfortable with the continuing political controversy, Tamayo and Olga moved to Paris in 1949 where they remained for the next decade.
Tamayo also painted murals, some of which are displayed inside Palacio Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, such as Nacimiento de la nacionalidad (Birth of the Nationality, 1952).