Rufino Tamayo (August 26, 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 abstractionwith 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.

    From 1937 to 1949, Tamayo and his wife Olga lived in New York where he painted some of his most memorable works. He had his first show in New York City at the Valentine Gallery. He gained credibility thereby and proceeded to exhibit works at the Knoedler Gallery and Marlborough Gallery. While in New York, Tamayo instructed Helen Frankenthaler at the Dalton School. Tamayo, while in the United States, attended important exhibitions which influenced his art mechanics. From Ingres to Picasso and French art exhibitions, Tamayo was introduced to Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism. Also, at an exhibition in Brooklyn in 1928, Tamayo came into contact with Henri Matisse, the French artist.

    In a 1926 exhibition, 39 of Tamayo’s works were displayed at the Weyhe Gallery in New York just a month after his arrival into the United States. This stands in stark contrast to the few showings which were held during his early career in México. The artist’s sojourn in New York dramatically increased his recognition not only in the United States but in Mexico and other countries also.