Mexican Artist Tamayo Has His Day in the Sun

Posted January 13, 2010 at 4:32pm

An out-of-the-way museum concealed behind fortress-like walls hides a treasure in Northwest D.C. The Meridian International Center has on display the vibrant prints of Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo.

Tamayo is famous for his paintings, but this exhibit showcases the textured prints he developed with the Mixografía Workshop, founded in Mexico City in 1968. The painter worked with printers Luis and Lea Remba to develop the method in Mexico City in the early 1970s. Though Tamayo died in 1991, the Rembas still operate the Mixografía Workshop in Los Angeles today. The workshop and Landau Traveling Exhibitions partnered with the Meridian to bring the exhibition to the District.

Nearly 40 pictures are on display in the Cafritz Galleries at 1624 Crescent Place NW. The prints were developed using a complicated process. The artist uses a plate to create the original design, then uses molds to create a negative plate, which is inked with the artists’ colors, as explained in a catalogue of Tamayo’s prints. Paper pulp is added to the plate, drained of water and put through the printing press, eventually becoming the print.

Several of Tamayo’s pictures show silhouettes with their arms raised in the air. Tamayo uses subtle differences to express different emotions. In one, a 1984 print called “Hombre con Brazos Abiertos— (Man With Open Arms), a black silhouette stretches upward against a background of red, pink and blue. A 1983 print, “El Vergonzoso— (Bashful), shows a figure with his hands covering his eyes. Another 1983 print called “Protesta— (Protest) depicts a dark figure with its wrists crossed above its head, fingers outstretched. The stark red and brown background makes Tamayo’s point.

Tamayo’s use of color contrast communicates in less serious prints, too. In three different takes on slices of watermelon, he uses red melons against a black background, blue melons against a black background and broader red melons against a darker red background. Tamayo maintained a lifelong interest in fruit after helping with his aunt’s fruit stand in Mexico City when he was a child.

“Luna y Sol— (Moon and Sun), the last print Tamayo made before his death, shows off some of his most advanced work. The luminous blue and yellow highlight the whimsy of a half-moon staring up at a smiling sun. Yet the texture of the print, the unique feature of mixografía, is obvious even from a distance. A pattern of sponges keeps the picture from looking like simple graphic design, instead giving it the look of a painting even in a set of 100 prints.

Tamayo’s work fits in with the Meridian’s mission to promote cultural diplomacy because of its importance in both Mexico and the United States, according to Director of Exhibitions Terry Harvey.

“The story fits our Art for Cultural Diplomacy program in a way that it has a cross-border reality to it,— Harvey said. Tamayo sustained his love for his native Oaxaca but gained experience and respect in the United States and Europe.

Through its Art for Cultural Diplomacy program, funded by a grant from the State Department, the Meridian partners with universities, museums, embassies and other groups to bring art from different cultures to the nation’s capital and other cities. Among their audience are students, diplomats, politicians and artistic leaders.

“It’s unique in that most people don’t really employ art as a cultural diplomatic tool, which is what we do,— Harvey explained.

The exhibit is in keeping with others the Meridian has shown. In 2009, the museum partnered with the National Art Museum of China to hang an exhibit of 31 Chinese artists called “Metropolis Now!— In June, the Meridian will display the queen of Denmark’s costume and set designs used last fall in the Hans Christian Andersen film, “The Wild Swans.—

Concurrent with the Tamayo exhibit, the Rembas will take part in a panel discussion at the Mexican Cultural Institute. Juan García de Oteyza of the Aperture Foundation will join them to discuss mixografía at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 4. Attendees can RSVP for the free event to cdiaz@instituteofmexicodc.org.

Rufino Tamayo and the Mixografía Years (1974-1990) will be on display through Feb. 14. The gallery is free and open 2 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.