Rufino Tamayo (August 25, 1899 – June 24, 1991) was a Mexican painter of Zapotec heritage, born in Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico.
Tamayo was active in the mid-20th century in Mexico and New York, painting figurative abstraction with surrealist influences.
Tamayo's Zapotec heritage is often cited as an early influence.
After his parents' death, Tamayo moved to Mexico City to live with his aunt. While there, he devoted himself to helping his family with their small business. However, after a while, Tamayo’s aunt enrolled him at Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas at San Carlos in 1917 to study art. As a student, he experimented with and was influenced by Cubism, Impressionism and Fauvism, among other popular art movements of the time, but with a distinctly Mexican feel.
Although Tamayo studied drawing at the Academy of Art at San Carlos as a young adult, he became dissatisfied and eventually decided to study on his own. That was when he began working for José Vasconcelos at the Department of Ethnographic Drawings (1921); he was later appointed head of the department by Vasconcelos.
Tamayo was influenced by many artists. María Izquierdo, a fellow Mexican artist with whom he lived for a time, taught Tamayo precision in his color choices. He selected colors true to his Mexican environment. He argued, "Mexicans are not a gay race but a tragic one...
Other influences came from Tamayo's cultural heritage. One can say that Tamayo was one of the few artists of his era who enjoyed Mexico’s ethnic differences. He enjoyed the fusion of Spanish-Mexican-Indian blood and that is shown in some of his art pieces. In Lion and Horse (1942), Tamayo used pre-Columbian ceramics. Tamayo was proud of his Mexican culture because his culture nourished him and, by traveling to other countries, his love for Mexico became greater.
Tamayo's acute awareness of the disregard shown Mexican artists influenced him profoundly. For example, according to Jose Carlos Ramirez, "Tamayo's work did not have much value".
Many people doubted that Mexican artists could actually create art. Under the Díaz regime, artists of Mexican origin were ignored by society; it was commonly held that they lacked the skills to surpass artists of European descent.