Tamayo obit- the passing of a great Latin Master in 1991.
Rufino Tamayo, a Leader in Mexican Art, Dies at 91
By MICHAEL BRENSON from the New York Times.
Published: June 25, 1991
Rufino Tamayo, a force in Mexican art for more than 60 years and one of the leaders of the Mexican Renaissance, died yesterday at the National Institute of Nutrition in Mexico City. He was 91 years old.
A spokesman for the institute said Mr. Tamayo had been suffering from pneumonia and was under intensive care for the last 10 days.
Mr. Tamayo, along with the three great Mexican muralists, Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, brought international attention to 20th-century Mexican art. In large part because of his active presence years after the last of the muralists had died, that attention has been maintained.
Mr. Tamayo was prolific. Although he is best known for his painting, he was an influential printmaker who liked being involved in every step of the process, including making his paper by hand. In the last 10 years, he began to dedicate himself to sculpture. An exhibition last winter at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum in Chicago included many of his tall, richly patinated steel figures. Mr. Tamayo's painting can be stark or lyrical, bawdy or extraordinarily delicate, allegorically elaborate or a feast of music and nature. Throughout his long career, his passionate commitment to the craft of painting is unmistakable, as is his feeling for animals and fruit and for the ceremonial pleasures of play and dance.
Mr. Tamayo believed in universality. Many of his paintings have a generic quality. Their slightly schematic, gestural, figurative style, shaped by modernist developments like Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism, can seem so familiar that they could have been painted almost anywhere. Tamayo Signature: Light and Color But if modernism helped him explore the possibilities of an international language, his inspiration remained the presence and continuity of Mexican traditions. The ecstatic earthiness, the transcendent power of simple things, and his masklike faces and statuesque figures are rooted in his Indian origins and in his study of Mexican folk art and pre-Columbian sculpture. From beginning to end, his painting is saturated with Mexican color and light.
Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet and Nobel laureate, wrote: "If I could express with a single word what it is that distinguishes Tamayo from other painters of our age, 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 the sun carbonized."Reviewing an exhibition of his paintings at the Marlborough Gallery in Manhattan in 1977, the New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer wrote that it is the color "that wins us over -- color that is unembarrassed to be beautiful.
"Indeed, even where the 'primitive' drawing has lost its luster in these paintings, the sheer force of color -- a sensuous purple-red, a dusky terra cotta, the blues and pinks of the Mexican sky -- sustain their power." In the last two decades of his life, particularly after the last of the three muralists, Siqueiros, died in 1974, Mr. Tamayo became a national celebrity. Two Mexican museums, one housing his collection of pre-Hispanic objects, the other his collection of modern art, are named for him. More and more younger Mexican artists began finding his independence an example.
In the catalogue of an exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery last fall, Prof. Edward J. Sullivan, a scholar of Mexican art and the chairman of the department of fine arts at New York University, writes that Mr. Tamayo has "consistently stood as an example of personal freedom and liberty."This example has been followed by generations of younger Mexican painters who have often stated that without the lessons learned from Tamayo, they could not have found their own artistic voices." Defending the Easel Against Muralists
Mr. Tamayo is almost as well known for his bitter conflicts with Orozco, Rivera and Siqueiros as he is for his paintings. "The three great ones," as the muralists were known, were shaped by the 1910 Mexican Revolution and they continued to believe that art should serve revolutionary ideals. This belief essentially remained official Mexican artistic policy into the 1950's.
In 1922, the three muralists helped form the Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors, whose manifesto proclaimed, "We repudiate the so-called easel painting and all the art of ultra-intellectual circles, because it is aristocratic and we glorify the expression of Monumental Art because it is a public possession." Although Mr. Tamayo painted murals, he was most comfortable on canvas. He "remained essentially an easel painter," said William S. Lieberman, the head of the department of 20th-century art at the Metropolitan Museum. "The other three responded more naturally to the wall, but that fresco technique they used wasn't his dish of tea."
Mr. Tamayo defended himself repeatedly. "The easel is a laboratory, a field of experimentation without limitations," he argued, "and its limited surface covers all the potentialities for an artist." Mr. Tamayo never forgot his struggle with official notions of art and his difficulty in gaining respect for the art he wanted to make. "You know the famous phrase of Siqueiros: 'Ours is the only path,' " Mr. Tamayo said in 1981, 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."
The same year, he recalled: "I had difficulties with the muralists, to the point that they accused me of being a traitor to my country for not following their ways of thinking. But my only commitment is to painting. That doesn't mean I don't have personal political positions. But those positions aren't reflected in my work. My work is painting." Finding the Roots Tradition Fostered Mr. Tamayo was born on Aug. 26, 1899, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. He was the only child of Florentina and Manuel Arellanes Tamayo, both of Zapotec Indian descent; his father was a businessman. In 1911, after both parents had died, he went to live with an aunt who had a large wholesale fruit business in Mexico City. Later on he spoke with fondness about his years with her, when his love of tropical fruit began.
Mr. Tamayo left the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts after a year and spent the next three years teaching himself. In 1921 he was appointed the head designer of the department of ethnographic drawings in the National Museum of Archeology in Mexico City, where he was surrounded by pre-Columbian objects."It opened my eyes," Mr. Tamayo said, "putting me in touch with both pre-Columbian and popular arts. I immediately discovered the sources of my work -- our tradition."
In 1926 he visited New York with the composer Carlos Chavez and remained two years. He returned eight years later. "Because Tamayo was so involved in psychological interpretation and in his own personal rendering of images," said Robert R. Littman, the director of the Centro Cultural Arte Contemporaneo in Mexico City, "he was felt to be very bourgeois and pandering to motives not accepted by the muralists. And he had to leave Mexico, the climate was so uncomfortable for him."
He was based in New York for more than a decade, teaching art at the Dalton School in Manhattan during the winters and returning to Mexico during the summers. His neighbors included the artists Marcel Duchamp, Stuart Davis, Reginald Marsh and Yasuo Kuniyoshi. Learning Painting In New York "I went to New York to get to know what painting really was," Mr. Tamayo said. "We were blind here, and New York made me aware of all the trends and currents that existed in those years. It showed me what art was."
"I always thought that New York was the center of the art world," he said in 1980. "My art was really formed there."Professor Sullivan said: "He saw what was going on in New York, where he really grew up as an artist and became disillusioned with what he perceived as the empty political rhetorical statements of Rivera and the other muralists, and began to paint and do murals in a style quite divorced from theirs. He embraced international Surrealism, particularly in the 30's, and incorporated elements of early New York School painters. He belonged to the Works Progress Administration for a while. He began to look at Picasso in 1938. It was 'Guernica' that set him on a different course altogether."
In 1943 he painted a mural for the Hillyer Art Library of Smith College, called "Nature and the Artist: The Work of Art and Spectator." It presents an artist at work before a canvas, studying and painting allegorical representations of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water.
Many of his paintings of the 30's and 40's have a searching, experimental quality. They are occasionally dreamy and disjunctive, with objects and figures floating in space. They can also be statuesque, with simple people, like fruit sellers, suggesting the appearance and authority of pre-Columbian statues.During World War II, his work became simpler and sometimes savage. He painted big-eyed open-mouthed animals, fearsome and fearful, including dogs that bring to mind Mexican Tarascan clay figurines.
After World War II, Mr. Tamayo's paintings gradually became more dynamic and gestural and they began to reflect the fascination with technology that is evident in Rivera's work. "Art should align itself with the characteristics of life in the moment in which it is produced," Mr. Tamayo said in 1947.Mr. Tamayo was elected an honorary member of the American Academy and National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1961.
In 1974 the Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre-Hispanic Mexican Art opened in Oaxaca, with well over 1,000 works collected by the artist and his wife, Olga Flores, a pianist, during the preceding 20 years. Retrospectives And a Museum In 1977 Mr. Tamayo was given a large exhibition at the Sao Paulo Bienal in Brazil. In 1979 a retrospective, "Rufino Tamayo: Myth and Magic," was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
The Rufino Tamayo Museum of International Contemporary Art opened in Mexico City in 1981 with a handful of works by the artist and around 300 paintings, sculptures, drawings and tapestries from his private collection, by artists like Picasso, Joan Miro, Fernand Leger, Rene Magritte, Max Ernst, Jean Dubuffet and Salvador Dali. Financed by private corporations, with prominent businessmen and bankers as trustees, this was the first major museum in Mexico that was not Government run. Since 1986 it has been financed and run by the state.
The largest Tamayo exhibition, bringing together more than 700 paintings, took place in 1987 at two museums in Mexico City, the Museum of the Palace of Fine Arts and the Tamayo Museum. In 1989, Mr. Tamayo had open-heart surgery. He had been in failing health since last year.He is survived by his wife.