Ever so present in Tamayo’s work is the influence of his pre-Colombian heritage. Long after its first appearance in the 1930s, pre-Columbian and folk art traditions continued to serve Tamayo’s declaration for “universality;” a theme vastly overshadowed by the social realism that characterized much of Mexican artistic production during the first half of the twentieth-century. Lacking any facial features, the main character turns introspectively in search of meaning and identity, a perpetual existential quest. References to reality, never truly abandoned by the artist, are further materialized through the theatricality of the stage and the presence of monumental archetypes next to functional objects painted in an unusual scale: a grey ball floating amid space and an impossibly shortened street lantern in the foreground.
It has been said that a study should be made of the different positions adopted by the arms in the works of Tamayo. “They are, in all events, decisive.” (1) Whether open or closed, active or in repose, they communicate tone better than any other formal element. In Hombre con un farol, one arm is relaxed while the other one appears engaged in a menial action: turning on a street lantern. The promise of light and with it knowledge, symbolically alludes to Tamayo’s humanistic spirit; a belief in the universality of art across millennia and civilizations.
(1) José Corredor-Matheos, Tamayo, Rizzoli, New York, 1987, pg. 24
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