TAMAYO Rufino. Mexican painter born in 1899 in Oaxaca of a Zapotecan family. As a young man Tamayo went to Mexico City and in 1918 studied at the San Carlos Academy. He found the instruction sterile and he left. He interested himself in the archaeology of his country and, through books and magazines, in modern French art. After a stay in New York in the middle nineteen-twenties he returned to Mexico City and was honored with government appointments. In 1933 he was commissioned to execute a mural for the National Conservatory of Music.
In 1910 he painted his first entirely nonrepresentational works and wrote his treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which was published in 1912. He met Franz Mare, August Macke and Paul Klee. With Mare, he was responsible for the publication of the Blaue Reiter year book, which gave its name to the movement whose two exhibitions, in December 1911 and 1912, are landmarks in modern German painting. The appearance in 1910 of Kandinsky's first non-figurative work, Abstract Water Colour, was the result of a long evolution whose stages he traced in his book Glimpses of the Part. 'I felt more and more strongly', he wrote, 'that it is the inner desire of the subject which determines its form . . . The separation between the domain of art and the domain of Nature grew wider for me, until I could consider them as absolutely distinct, one from the other.' And he concludes: 'I knew then that objects harmed my painting'. In the two so-called 'dramatic' periods, between 1910 and 1920, Kandinsky painted pictures characterized by their disordered, violent lines, and very vivid colours. But this chaos gave way to order in response to an inner necessity; it was not a matter of the liberation of automatism but of a concerted attempt to express cosmic forces which transcend the powers of the individual.
He returned to New York in 1938 and became widely popular. In 1943 he painted frescoes for the library of Smith College. The world of Tamayo's painting is a borderland between the animal and the human, haunted and haunting, a world of harsh, broken lines sometimes relieved by color that occasionally verges on the pretty. It is filled with obsessive symbols which are as much a reflection of modern European preoccupations as of the milieu from which he sprang. The Cry ( 1947), for example, is the expressionist theme of Munch (see p. 96) translated in terms of the artist's own ethnic background. Throughout his work there are references to surrealism. As a result of his affinities to European culture he has been denounced by other, more stridently nationalistic, Mexican painters.