We are grateful to Art Historian Juan Carlos Pereda for his assistance in cataloguing this work.
Tamayo enjoyed immense international prestige by the end of the 1950s, taking his place as an ambassador of modern Mexican painting abroad and, equally, becoming an increasingly prominent presence in the cultural life of Mexico City and his native Oaxaca. In 1959, Tamayo and his wife Olga bought an apartment in Paris, only to realize within the year that they would "forever" belong in Mexico, and their definitive return in 1961 would mark the artist's triumphant homecoming and re-engagement with his Mexican roots. The present Figura de pie constitutes a visual bridge between the artist's European and Mexican sources, drawing on the universal humanism expressed both in the postwar existentialism of the School of Paris and the cosmic archetypes embedded in the pre-Hispanic tradition. "In Tamayo's painting the monumentality of the human figure gives man greatness in his relationship with the cosmos," José Corredor-Matheos has observed. "An ambivalent relationship, for the disproportion, however conventional, must be evident, and man is appraised, tragically, in the face of the void and the whole."(1)
Tamayo plumbed myriad humanist themes throughout his career, and in his classic evocations of man he gives powerful, dramatic expression to the resilience and vulnerability of the human spirit. "In Tamayo's painting, when a man appears, he is almost always a solitary man," Paul Westheim has observed. "He is detached from the surrounding world, a lone man, very much alone, faced with the cosmos. His suffering springs from inside himself, from his questions that have no answer, from his anxiety in trying to understand the incomprehensible, from his own humanity that isolates him in a world greedy for money, for power, for success."(2) Mute and transfixed, only a pair of closely-set eyes characterizing his face, Tamayo's eponymous standing figure stands dark against a lustrous golden shield, his long body magnified against a richly textured surface of variegated, carnation pink.
Though never fully abstract, Tamayo's figures became more schematic for a short period at the beginning of the 1960s, and the stripped-down Figura de pie anticipates the further effacing of the figure that soon characterized his work. "This reduction is, perhaps, the essence of Tamayo's strived-after universality," Edward Sullivan has remarked, noting that ultimately "the roots of this brilliant system of artistic 'reductions' in Tamayo's art can be traced back to his early (and continued) fascination with pre-Columbian art."(3) In the present work, the muted red shapes that overlay the figure's face and upper torso may suggest symbolic or totemic forms; their presence imparts an almost supernatural aura to the solitary figure, both masking and decorating his darkened body. Compelling yet enigmatic, Tamayo's figure stands tall, his spindly arm affixed assuredly to his hip and his craggy body forming a striking counterpoint to the viscous, pink and gold pigments against which he rises.
1) J. Corredor-Matheos, Tamayo, New York, Rizzoli, 1987, 24.
2) P. Westheim, Tamayo: A Study in Esthetics (Mexico City: Ediciones Artes de Mxico, 1957, 22, 25.
3) E. J. Sullivan, "Paths of Light: The Art of Rufino Tamayo," in Rufino Tamayo: Recent Paintings, 1980-1990, New York: Marlborough Gallery, 1990.