MASTERWORKS OF MEXICAN MODERNISM: PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
In his painted canvas of 1947, Paisaje del Paricutín, Rufino Tamayo seems to visualize the eyewitness’s oral account cited above, focusing on the nocturnal scene and sparks of red and orange lava that both burst open and rain down like artificial fire from the sky. Beyond the specificity of this violent outburst as a local natural phenomenon that captivated the world, Paisaje del Paricutin needs to be understood in relation to a series of works the artist produced during the war years, in which he had begun to incorporate references to the cosmos, the birth of the atomic age and veiled references to crisis and trauma. James Oles has analyzed these paintings of howling animals, figure running from fire, and devastating cataclysms and has linked them to the tensions and crises of the war and the early atomic age. Thousands of people were displaced by the eruption of Paricutín and forced to rebuild their lives elsewhere; Life magazine emphasized, “Paricutin is sample of Earth’s interior hell.” Yet unlike his paintings of figures escaping burning buildings or children playing with fire—the works that immediately preceded this painting—Paisaje del Paricutin is an abstracted landscape. It is as Oles states, a representation of an “earth-shattering event” and “unleashed natural forces,” broader themes that no doubt preoccupied the artist (J. Oles in “The Howl and the Flame: Tamayo’s Wartime Allegories,” Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted (exhibition catalogue), Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, 2007, pp. 308-09). To be sure, curator and art historian Diana Du Pont indicates that Tamayo’s painting should be understood as a “Surrealist metaphor for the unconscious and as an indigenist icon of Mexico’s emergence as a modern nation” (D. Du Pont, “Realistic, Never Descriptive”: Tamayo and the Art of Abstract Figuration” in op. cit., p. 73).
A master colorist, Tamayo uses his signature method of mixing oil with sand, which in this painting formally reinforces and materializes the theme of a soot-filled landscape. The brilliant reds and oranges of the lava are set against a deep purple and pinkish sky. Lines radiate and puncture the composition while the angled branches of an anthropomorphic burned tree to the right echo the forms of the lava spurting out from the volcano. Through formal means, Tamayo expresses the dynamism of this violent outburst focusing on the awe-inspiring and unbridled energy of subterranean forces.
2018-2019 Stuart Z. Katz Professor of the Humanities and the Arts
The City College of New York, CUNY
Professor of Latin American and Latina/o Art
Ph.D. Program in Art History, The Graduate Center, CUNY
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