Dos personajes atacados por perros, 1983
Mixograph on handmade paper, ed. 18/75
60.5 x 97 inches
A native of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico, Rufino Tamayo’s father was a shoemaker, and his mother a seamstress. Some accounts state that he was descended from Zapotec Indians, but he was actually ‘mestizo’ – of mixed indigenous/European ancestry. He began painting at age 11. Orphaned at the age of 12, Tamayo moved to Mexico City, where he was raised by his maternal aunt who owned a wholesale fruit business.
In 1917, he entered the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts, but left soon after to pursue independent study. Four years later, Tamayo was appointed the head designer of the department of ethnographic drawings at the National Museum of Archaeology in Mexico City. There he was surrounded by pre-Colombian objects, an aesthetic inspiration that would play a pivotal role in his life. In his own work, Tamayo integrated the forms and tones of pre-Columbian ceramics into his early still lives and portraits of Mexican men and women.
In the early 1920s he also taught art classes in Mexico City’s public schools. Despite his involvement in Mexican history, he did not subscribe to the idea of art as nationalistic propaganda. Modern Mexican art at that time was dominated by ‘The Three Great Ones’ : Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueros, but Tamayo began to be noted as someone ‘new’ and different’ for his blending of the aesthetics of post Revolutionary Mexico with the vanguard artists of Europe and the United States.
After the Mexican Revolution, he focused on creating his own identity in his work, expressing what he thought was the traditional Mexico, and refusing to follow the political trends of his contemporary artists. This caused some to see him as a ‘traitor’ to the political cause, and he felt it difficult to freely express himself in his art. As a result, he decided to leave Mexico in 1926 and move to New York, along with his friend, the composer Carlos Chavez. The first exhibition of Tamayo’s work in the United States was held at the Weyhe Gallery, New York, in that same year. The show was successful, and Tamayo was praised for his ‘authentic’ status as a Mexican of ‘indigenous heritage’, and for his internationally appealing Modernist aesthetic. (Santa Barbara Museum of Art).
Throughout the late thirties and early forties New York’s Valentine Gallery gave him shows. For nine years, beginning in 1938, he taught at the Dalton School in New York.
In 1929, some health problems led him to return to Mexico for treatment. While there he took a series of teaching jobs. During this period he became romantically involved with the artist Maria Izquierdo, with whom he lived and worked for several years. In 1933 he completed his first successful mural commission, a series of wall paintings for the Escuela Nacional de Musica (National School of Music). While working on this project, he met Olga Flores Rivas, a piano student at the school. Soon he separated from Izquierdo, and began a romance with Olga. The two were married in 1934. Although Olga was talented and had a budding performance career, she abandoned her musical pursuits to devote herself to promoting Tamayo’s work. She was a lifelong muse to the artist, and over his seventy year career, he drew and painted many portraits of her.