Rufino Tamayo, Tres Personajes, 1970
51 x 38 in.
Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) was a Mexican painter. Born in Oaxaca, he was of Zapotec descent, which is often cited as an important influence on his work. After his parents died, Tamayo moved to Mexico City to live with his aunt and help with the family business. However, recognizing his talent, his aunt enrolled him in the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas in 1917. While in school, he experimented with the leading genres of the time, including Cubism, Impressionism, and Fauvism, always adding a distinctly Mexican character to these styles. Over time, Tamayo found his own style, mixing traditional art with modernism, and influenced by abstraction and Surrealism. In 1926, he left Mexico and moved to New York, although he spent significant amounts of time in both New York and Mexico CIty for the rest of his life. Tres Personajes (Three People) is a stunning example of Tamayo's skill and style. It is abstract, almost entirely, and employs bright colors and mysterious shapes. The painting also features Tamayo's signature rough painting surface, achieved by mixing sand and ground marble dust into the paint. The piece is generally seen to contain one female figure, one male, and an androgynous figure in between. While I can certainly see those elements, to me the painting isn't about the figures, it is about shape and color. The intense palette seems like the main subject of the painting, and Tamayo used interesting shapes to utilize those colors and convey their effect. Even the use of grey and black is very powerful. This painting was stolen from a Houston warehouse in the late eighties and became the subject of an FBI investigation, but it never turned up. It was discovered in 2003, nestled between two trash cans in Manhattan at the corner of 72nd St and Broadway by one Elizabeth Gibson, who knew little about art but was compelled to take the painting home. The trash was picked up twenty minutes later. It took some three or four years and a lot of research, but Gibson eventually discovered that she had a famously stolen painting. She contacted Sotheby's who confirmed the painting's authenticity. Gibson received a finder's fee and reward and the painting was sold on behalf of the original owner. No culprit has ever been identified and no one knows how it ended up in the trash on that particular corner, but this masterpiece, which had been given up for lost by the owners, was miraculously discovered and saved.