Rufino Tamayo (Mexico) bio

Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1899 to a Zapotecan Indian family


Rufino Tamayo is one of the most world-renowned Mexican artists. As a boy in school, he spent most of his time drawing, which caused his aunt to withdraw him from classes and put him to work as a vendor in her fruit business. Tamayo continued to spend time at the National Museum in Mexico City, drawing archaeological treasures, especially the pre-Columbian objects, which influenced his art for the rest of his life.

Tamayo believed in the universality of painting, which put him in direct opposition to the other well-known group of Mexican artists of the time: the muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siquieros. Tamayo’s modern styles made him a object of ridicule for the muralists, who felt that painting should continue to serve revolutionary ideals, even though the Mexican Revolution had occurred in 1910. Siquieros’s cry that "ours is the only path" caused the following retort from Tamayo in 1981 at a talk before the opening of the Rufino Tamayo Museum in Mexico City: "Can you believe that, to say that ours is the only path when the fundamental thing in art is freedom! In art, there are millions of paths—as many paths as there are artists."

Having been made so uncomfortable by the muralists in his own country that he felt pressured to leave, Tamayo eventually left for New York, where he lived for more than ten years, teaching at the Dalton School in Manhattan and painting a huge body of work. He was also a master printmaker, even making his own paper.

The color of Tamayo’s paintings is influenced by the people and art of his native land—earth-reds, dull greens, purple, and chrome yellow predominate. His subject matter is drawn from Mexican and pre-Columbian influences as well, and the influence of European artists and movements are also evident in his work. Women of Tehuantepec is no exception—the women and setting are clearly Mexican and are influenced by his childhood experiences at his aunt’s fruit stand. However, the fruit, space, and figures also contain clear references to modern European paintings by his contemporaries.

Rufino Tamayo is known for his intense and beautiful color sense. His later paintings seem to glow. Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet and Nobel laureate, has said of him, "If I could express with a single word what it is that distinguishes Tamayo from other painters, I would say, without a moment’s hesitation: sun. For the sun is in all his pictures, whether we see it or not: night itself is for Tamayo simply a sun carbonized."

Eventually, Tamayo was recognized as a great painter in his own right, even by Mexicans who had earlier rejected him. In 1981, the Rufino Tamayo Museum of Contemporary Art was opened in Mexico City with a handful of his own paintings and a selection of contemporary works from the collection he had made with his wife, Olga Flores. Included as well are works by artists such as Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Fernand Léger, and Pablo Picasso. This museum joined the Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre-Hispanic and Mexican Art, which opened in 1974 in Oaxaca with older works collected by the couple.

A partial list of the museums that have works by Tamayo in their permanent collection:


Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels


Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro


Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo

Arizona State University Art Collections, Arizona

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

Brooklyn Museum, New York

Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati

Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland

Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas

Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University,

 Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin

Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles

Milwaukee Art Center, Milwaukee

Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis

Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, New York

Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Museum of Modern Art, Houston

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix

New York Public Library, New York

San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco

Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis

University of Louisville Allen R. Hite Institute, Kentucky

University of Oregon, Oregon

Washington University, St. Louis

Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, Kansas

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut


Musée National d'Art Moderne

Centre d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Paris

UNESCO, Mural for Conference Room, Paris


Tate Gallery, London


Museum of Fine Arts, Jerusalem


Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderne, Rome
Musei Vaticani, Ciudad del Vaticano, Rome


Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo


Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City

Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Internacional Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City

Museo de Monterrey, Monterrey, N. L.

Museo Nacioal de Arte, Mexico City


Museum Kunstnerns Hus, Oslo
Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo

Puerto Rico

Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus


Museo de Arte Moderno, Caracas
Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas

The Mixografia process

Luis and Lea Remba first approached Tamayo with the idea of making prints in 1973. Initially uninterested, Tamayo said that he would venture into printmaking only if he felt confident he could produce editions that possessed the same kinds of volume, textures and depth as his paintings. Luis Remba responded to Tamayo’s challenge by developing a printing method which, eventually, he and Tamayo would together name “Mixografia.” As Remba explains, “I set to work and found a way to print with texture. The method allowed the artist to create a collage or maquette out of various materials, such as charred wood, rope, cotton and other natural substances, which we would then cast in copper as a printing plate.”

Remba continues, “the key to the Mixografia process came when we started making our own paper for the editions, which allowed the ink to be absorbed and created a fresco-like quality to the finished works.”Tamayo found the results extremely pleasing, and felt that it captured the kind of textured luminosity of his paintings. Consequently, the artist embarked with the Rembas on a working relationship which spanned a seventeen-year period, resulting in eighty editions, which many feel is the best printwork of Tamayo's career.

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