Rufino Tamayo and the birth of Mixografia prints

Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) is a modern master whose legacy is rooted in his contributions across a variety of media, including mural and easel painting, drawing, and the graphic arts. Produced between 1925 and 1991, his graphic work includes woodcuts, lithographs, etchings and Mixografia® prints — a new technique that was developed in the early 1970s to allow him to produce his prints in relief.


The 10 Mixografia® prints presented in our Latin American Art Online  sale come from the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and are being sold to benefit acquisitions of Latin American art. Collectively, they attest to Tamayo’s mastery of colour, and underscore his status as one of modern art’s great innovators.


Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, Rufino Tamayo began his artistic training at the School of Fine Arts in San Carlos. He soon became frustrated with school’s traditional teaching methods, however, and left to train independently. In 1921 he became head of the Department of Ethnographic Drawing at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico, which sparked his interest in pre-Columbian art — one that was to have a lasting influence on his visual vocabulary.


Tamayo lived in New York from the late 1920s until 1949 and then later moved to Paris. His experiences outside Mexico brought him into direct contact with the art of Picasso, George Braque and Henri Matisse. Rather than emphasising the popular political rhetoric favoured by fellow Mexican muralists such as David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, Tamayo took his lead from European modernism — chiefly Cubism and Surrealism — to explore aesthetic themes for the sake of art rather than for political purposes.


Throughout his career, Tamayo sought new ways to infuse his work with a sense of dimensionality. He was able to achieve this in his paintings through colour, form and unconventional media such as sand, but felt limited in his graphic work. By the early 1970s, his desire for greater surface detail, depth, and texture in his prints was not being met by the capabilities of traditional printmaking.


In 1973 Tamayo was invited by Luis Remba, a lithograph and printmaker, to collaborate on a suite of prints at Taller de Gráfica Mexicana, the studio Luis and his wife Lea ran in Mexico City. It was a collaboration that led to an entirely new print medium, Mixografia®, which was developed in direct response to Tamayo’s ambitions.


The new technique allowed Remba to create prints in relief, as well as registering the texture and very fine surface detail of the artwork. It would prove to be so successful that the entire workshop was renamed Mixografia.


The Mixografia® process begins in a similar way to that of traditional printmaking — the artist crafts a model from any variety of materials, from which a plate is cast and then covered in a layer of ink. At this point in the procedure, however, Mixografia® begins to differ.


Instead of pressing the plate against a sheet of paper, a paper pulp, made in-house out of cotton fibre, is applied over the print ink. Together the pulp and the plate are run under extremely high pressure, allowing the pulp to slide into each individual crevice of the plate and the ink to mix into the fibres of the pulp.


The technique proved to be perfectly suited to what Tamayo wanted to achieve: the resulting print has a much richer colour as the ink becomes immersed in the fabric of the paper, while the surface is subtly nuanced and resembles a relief, unlike a typical two-dimensional print.


The mixographs Tamayo made during his collaboration with Luis Remba drew inspiration from his Mexican and Zapotec heritage, and have a similar sculptural quality to stone reliefs and Pre-Columbian art. The subjects are often simple and schematised, and would appear, for Tamayo at least, to be secondary to the print’s texture and rich colour.


For instance, in Luna y sol  (1990), above, the sumptuous blue contrasts with the vibrant yellow, while fine black lines throughout the work infuse it with a tactile quality and create a noticeable sense of depth — the moon and the sun seem to recede into the distance despite the two-dimensional picture plane.


In another print from a year before, Figura en rojo (1989), above, Tamayo uses deep purple and red — more sombre colours somewhat typical of his oeuvre. Each object in the image — the figure, the building, and the sun in the distance — has a sense of dimensionality attained through the flecks of black, which almost appear to form shadows.


Tamayo’s mixographs in many ways are representative of the eventual culmination of the artist’s varied cultural, formal, and stylistic interests. The 10 works offered in our Latin American Art Online sale are true feats of graphic art, demonstrating a formal complexity that is more characteristic of sculpture and painting than of the print medium, and should each be considered a tour de force that reveals Tamayo’s true artistic prowess.


The Rembas went on to publish more than 80 editions for Tamayo during their 17-year collaboration with the artist. These included the 1983 paper mural Dos Personajes Atacados Por Perros, which was printed using a conventional lithographic stone measuring 103 x 63 inches, the largest in the world. The stone, upon which the artist’s original drawing is still visible, is on permanent view in the Mixografia® gallery in Los Angeles.




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