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Rufino Tamayo: The Zapotec Cezanne : TAMAYO by Jose Corredor-Matheos; translated by Kenneth Lyon (Rizzoli International:$19.95; 128 pp. illustrated)

January 24, 1988|Margarita Nieto | Nieto's interview with Rufino Tamayo will appear in this month's issue of Mexico en el Arte

At age 88, Rufino Tamayo continues exploring the special and symbolic grounds of the imagination through his mysteriously magical paintings, lithographs and "mixografias." One of a handful of truly innovative and gifted modern masters, his ability to combine Mexican Pre-Columbian myth and popular art with technical experimentations and palette, texture, and an innovative utilization of line and plane, has earned him the most prestigious international honors and prizes, including the Venice Biennale (1950) and the Grand Prix at the Sao Paulo Biennale (1953). His works, candidly urbane, sensuous, humorous, tragic, violent and austere, are included in major collections throughout the world and were featured in the fall, at the inauguration of the new Modern Museum of Art in Santa Ana, and at Artspace, the Cultural Foundation Gallery in Woodland Hills. Later this month, an exhibition of his "Mixografia" works at the Mixografia Workshop will also celebrate the opening of the Tamayo Restaurant in Los Angeles, which will feature rotating exhibitions of his work. Moreover, an homage retrospective of his work, which includes murals and major paintings from museums and private collections, as well as a series of new paintings especially created for the exhibition, opened Dec. 9 at the Palace of Fine Arts and the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City. Vigorous and dynamic, his physical appearance and energy belying his age, he paints everyday in his Mexico City studio and travels to openings of his exhibitions throughout the world in the company of his wife and companion, Olga Tamayo.

First published in Spain by Ediciones Poligrafas, this book chronicles Tamayo's work with 158 illustrations of paintings from 1924 to 1986 and includes a comprehensive critical essay by Jose Corredor-Matheos on the technical and painterly aspects of his work. A Spanish 20th-Century art historian, Corredor-Matheos approaches Tamayo's work through its basic elements, themes, form and color: "In Tamayo, the themes, forms and colors appear again and again, though the way he transforms them always makes them seem new." Corredor-Matheos traces the evolution of that transformation through specific works and through the painter's biography and commentary along with references to other essays, including those of Xavier Villarrutia, Juan Acha, Luis Cardoza y Aragon, Juan Garcia Ponce and Octavio Paz.

Tamayo's relationship to color goes back to his place of birth (Oaxaca), and his childhood surroundings of tropical fruits. In conversation with Corredor-Matheos, he offers insights into these influences and into his understanding of the Mexican people and of their landscape: "Mexicans are not a happy race but a tragic one." Mexico is also poor he states, and as a consequence, economic circumstances limit the Mexicans' use of color to those of nature, ochres, blues, the reddish tones of the earth. These fundamental bases, the rich, bright fruits of the tropics and the austere sobriety of the landscape set the stage for the duality and dialectic that Tamayo utilizes to create and control the composition throughout his work. Color is an element that is in constant flux and a key to the transformation that takes place in Tamayo's work, according to Corredor-Matheos, for the strong contrasts of his early periods give way to a gray that does not seek medium tones: " . . . Perhaps what he wants above all is an imposition that gives life to the work itself." This ambiguity finds its counterpart in the themes and the content within the work, the represented image.

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