We are grateful to art historian Juan Carlos Pereda for his assistance cataloguing this work.
At a time when Mexican Modernism had become synonymous with the overtly political work of Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rufino Tamayo blazed his own path dedicated to arte puro, his distinct style of formalist exploration. Line, color and form, Tamayo asserted, inspired him above all else. “Painting,” he once said, “derives its value from its plastic qualities. Qualities obtained through the process of purification until one arrives at the essence. Ordered plastic essence, along with the poetic, is what I call painting.” (1) While Tamayo maintained that painting's inherent principles were his primary concern, he also, not unlike his contemporaries, infused his work with Mexicanidad by evoking pre-Columbian aesthetics and mythology as well as modern Mexican society in ways both subtle and manifest. Tamayo's iconic red watermelons, for example, which appear to be objective studies in line, color, perception and perspective, held a personal resonance for the artist, who often recalled his childhood days spent selling the juicy fruit on the streets of Mexico City alongside his aunt with whom he lived after his mother passed away. Even in the most abstract of his compositions, Mexico remains an enduring presence.
In Mujer con sandía, an angular woman defined by a pulsating patchwork of strident pink brushstrokes faces forward, offering us a slice of the artist's signature leitmotif, the vibrant red watermelon. Hardly the soft sensuous female nude found throughout European art history, this erect, rigidly-rendered woman suggests the stolid geometric figures of pre-Columbian art, of which Tamayo was an avid collector. The female figure and the watermelon, two constants in Tamayo's oeuvre, appearing in his early Cubist-inspired work of the 1920s and continuing through to his increasingly abstract paintings of the late twentieth-century, serve here as a means for exploring the artist's true subject: color. Indeed, Mujer con sandía's richly hued canvas suggests Tamayo reveled in creating the riotous mix of warm umber, dusty rose, hot pink and cherry red flecked by an unexpected aqua and startling sea green. A veritable palimpsest of pigments, Mujer con sandía flaunts Tamayo's consummate skill as a colorist and affirms his commitment to arte puro.
(1) Rufino Tamayo, quoted in D. du Pont, ''Realistic, Never Descriptive:’ Tamayo and the Art of Abstract Figuration,’ Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted, Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2007, 43.