Rufino Tamayo (Oaxaca, Mexico, 1899 - Mexico City, 1991) is one of the preeminent figures in twentieth-century pictorial movements in Mexico. A tireless worker and incessant traveller, Tamayo's influences from a wide range of cultures is reflected in his paintings and makes them universal in the process. Furthermore, his artistic oeuvre also encompasses movements such as Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism and metaphysical painting.
The son of indigenous Zapotec parents, Tamayo is orphaned at an early age and subsequently moves to Mexico City where he begins his education in art. He goes through many difficult times, but, rather than letting them dampen his spirits they spur him on and in 1921 he starts work as a teacher in the Department of Ethnographic Drawing in the National Museum of Archaeology. Following his first individual exhibition in Mexico, in 1926, he goes to New York where he moves in more bohemian circles for two years; this is the city he later returns to, for fifteen years, and where he makes his name as an artist. One of his most important works is the mural realised in Smith College entitled La naturaleza y el artista: la obra de arte y el observador (1943), which features in the exhibition in the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
This, Tamayo's first exhibition in Spain, is made up of eighty of his most representative works, realised from 1928 to 1988, that originate from various corners of the globe. This anthological exhibition tracks Tamayo's artistic evolution, from its beginnings where his dark palette of rough tones moves on to a series of violent animals - both in form and colour - that express his reaction to the horrors of World War Two; these can be appreciated in Niña atacada por un pájaro extraño (1947). This is followed by more cosmological themes in the El astrónomo (1954) or in the large murals El día y la noche (1954) and Prometeo (1957). The human figure, landscape and still-life run constantly through his work and are always drawn synthetically and with great vigour.
Apart from his murals, Tamayo also chooses easel painting as the most suitable medium of expression to explore complex, solid and experimental textures. That said, his large-scale pieces are also present in the exhibition. Together with those already mentioned, Naturaleza muerta (1954) is displayed, where Tamayo looks to recall textures, colours and forms that depict his childhood when he works as a greengrocer. Homenaje a la raza india (1952) also stands out, a five by four metre mural that reflects the intimate connection to his roots. The interest in primitive cultures also comes to the fore with a collection of Pre-Hispanic art pieces that Tamayo donates to his native Oaxaca and which make up the collection of the Museum of Pre-Hispanic Art in Mexico.
At the end of 1987, Mexico honours Tamayo with a significant anthological display to commemorate his seventy years of creation, which is combined with this exhibition in the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía to give recognition to his work.