By the end of the 1930s, Rufino Tamayo had developed his own modernist palette. Largely made up of warm colors but, balanced with intense hues--his combinations of dark and light--warm and acid shades, would prompt art critic and historian Robert Goldwater to praise the artist's "handling of color, his delicate combinations, gradual transitions, slight shifts in tone and hue..." (1) Goldwater aptly grasped Tamayo's perception and sensibility as a painter in his sophisticated colors and simple stylized forms and shapes. It was during his stay in New York from the late 1930s through the end of the 1940s, that the artist first gained international acclaim. (2)
In a series on canvases executed during the 1940s, such as Animals, 1941, Dogs, 1941, Lion and Horse, 1942, Dog Howling, 1942, Dog and Serpent, 1943 and this impish Frog from 1946, the artist exaggerates body parts but mostly lets his animals "express a spirit of revolt." (3) They stand for something--fear, modern angst, wildness. Tamayo's several early dog compositions mimic the force and weight of the Tarascan clay figures he studied at the National Archeological Museum in Mexico City and eventually collected. However, Tamayo's animals evolved into elegant and streamlined forms, composed in delicate combinations of shades and tones that emphasized their stylization.
This composition, in some ways sparse and even severe, clearly demonstrates Tamayo's visual economy--more could be said with less. At closer look, the artist's brilliant understanding of space, form and above all, color, attests to Tamayo's invention. The rather rotund body of the amphibian seems to burst out from the canvas--only spindly legs seem to prevent it. Rather than static, the push and pull produced by the contrasting colors, animates the entire surface.
Tamayo's interpretation of modernity bears no semblance to his contemporaries working in Mexico. More than any other Mexican modernist, the artist is considered a supreme interpreter of color.(4) Not consumed by the ideological zeal of the Mexican muralist triumvirate--Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros--the artist spent a lifetime observing and discovering how color literally is seen, perceived, and most importantly, felt.
(1) R. Goldwater, Rufino Tamayo, New York: The Quadrangle Press, 1957, 25.
(2) Although the artist first arrived in New York in 1926 and had an exhibition at The Weyhe Gallery, this first stay would be a short one. Tamayo returned to New York in 1936 and stayed through the 1940s. He was appointed art instructor at The Dalton School and, at the Brooklyn Museum Art School he organized the Tamayo Workshop. As well, he continued to be included in museum and gallery exhibitions. In 1947, the Cincinnati Art Museum organized a retrospective exhibition.
(3) Goldwater, 27.
(4) Raquel Tibol has often said Tamayo invented numerous shades of reds.