"Tamayo's man," Paul Westheim has observed:
is burdened with sadness, or is bursting with happiness; he laughs, and at times he cries. . . . 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.(1)
Tamayo plumbed existential themes throughout his career, and in the introspective solitude of his paintings of the 1970s he gives subtle expression to the resilience and vulnerability of the human spirit. "For the most part figures stand mute, transfixed," James B. Lynch has observed of Tamayo's late work. "Dialogues and rapports have ceased," he continued, creating a "sense of insularity enhanced by what seem to be 'frames' within the picture frames or 'paintings' inside paintings."(2) The stage curtains that frame the eponymous Hombre con un farol effectively magnify the figure's isolation, both literally from his audience and more allusively from the ambient world. Detached from his environment, the figure is alienated further from himself; the obliteration of his facial features, the vital expression of self and identity, renders him a stranger even unto himself. Painting is turned here into an intimate act of introspection, an investigation into the nature of individual identity and the metaphysics of human being.
The hermetic, almost claustrophobic space of the stage is intensified by Tamayo's resonant colors, from which he draws out a richness of tones that suggests the ambiguities of being and of life itself. In his mature paintings, color acts dynamically in concert with the structured space, as José Corredor-Matheos has explained. "It is a matter of interrelation between the several colors, which cease to be entire and solid, and become vaporous, gaseous. It is as though the figures themselves, and the colors embodying them, were to some extent blended into the atmosphere. . . . Everything here is nuanced, without any stridency, a strange flowering."(3) The dim luminosity of Hombre con un farol has a phantasmagorical, gas-lit quality, the mottled curtains and background casting a diffuse glow across the surface of the painting. The lantern itself is peculiarly darkened; its shadowy outline just etched into the gray-violet screen, it provides neither physical warmth nor spiritual illumination. The consonance of Tamayo's palette nevertheless imbues the image with a cool gravity. The dominant olive greens and grays, inflected by flesh-and mauve-colored highlights, cast a nocturnal pallor over the scene, heightening the ambiguity and obscurity of its central figure.
This solitary figure, towering unnaturally above the lantern almost to the height of the curtain, embodies what was for Tamayo the sublimity of man, defined by his supreme consciousness and heroic search for meaning and identity. The vital anxiety embodied in Hombre con un farol conveys a profound reflection on the vicissitudes of life and on the message of universal humanism that long guided the artist's work. "In Tamayo's painting the monumentality of the human figure gives man greatness in his relationship with the cosmos," 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."(4)
1) P. Westheim, Tamayo: A Study in Esthetics, Mexico, D.F.: Ediciones Artes de Mexico, 1957, 22, 25.
2) J. B. Lynch, Jr., "Tamayo Revisited, "Rufino Tamayo: Fifty Years of His Painting, Washington, D.C., Phillips Collection, 1978, 21.
3) J. Corredor-Matheos, Tamayo, New York: Rizzoli, 1987, 13, 27.
4) Corredor-Matheos, Tamayo, 24.