Tamayo, Rufino (1899–1991) By Locatelli, Valentina
A Mexican painter and muralist of indigenous heritage, Rufino Tamayo was one of the most important representatives of figurative abstraction and poetic realism in 20th-century Latin American art. A supporter of the universalistic approach to art, in the late 1940s he started a controversy—the so called ‘‘polémica Tamayo’’—by positioning himself against the classical Mexican school and its ‘‘Big Three,’’ the muralists José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and Alfaro Siqueiros. Contrary to the stress they put on art as political, Tamayo focused on its poetic and emotional aspects. Tamayo’s art is based both on Mexican figurative traditions (characterized by the rigor and geometry of pre-Hispanic sculpture and its imaginative and magical character), and on the influence of European and North American avant-garde movements, especially Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. His sensibility for nature and spirituality, his interest in ordinary people, and his ability to synthesize different pictorial languages with Mexican folk art and beliefs, have made him a very popular artist, nationally and internationally. Throughout his career Tamayo directed his effort ‘‘towards the salvation of painting, the preservation of its purity and the perpetuation of its mission as translator of the world’’ (Paz 1985: 23).