Figura prehispánica VIII. Vaso zoomorfo, Colima
Figuras prehispánicas

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Prehispanic Figure VIII. Zoomorphic vase, Colima
Prehispanic Figures

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height: 56cm
width: 45.5cm

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Donated by the Fundación Olga y Rufino Tamayo 1997

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Although painting was Rufino Tamayo's predominant medium, he did periodically make innovative artworks utilising print techniques. In 1976 the artist executed the Figuras Prehispánicas series of twelve lithographs, with one hundred examples of each. The lithographs were produced at Kyron Ediciones Gráficas Limitadas in Mexico City, a studio that has overseen the prints of numerous prominent Mexican artists. Tamayo's series depicts many prevalent Prehispanic figures from the western and Gulf Coast cultures of Mexico, including warriors, hunchbacks, jaguars and women. The images are directly based upon figures from Tamayo's own Prehispanic collection, which has been displayed in the Museo Rufino Tamayo in Oaxaca since the artist donated over one thousand pieces to the state in 1974. As with the design of the museum, the lithographs highlight the aesthetic qualities of the figures: form, texture and accompanying colour predominate. However, the lithographs are also unique in that they offer a more direct and specific representation of Prehispanic forms than can usually be found in Tamayo's work. The concise but simple lines of the figures contrast with the surrounding loose patterns that reflect the water and stone-based methods of lithography, and give the images an ancient patina-like quality. The artist's unusual technique of applying single strokes of colour across the figures subsequent to printing is another unique feature of the series, and the colours of vermillion, mauve, blue and pink are common colours of Tamayo's palette.

Tamayo based this Jaguar lithograph upon an effigy vessel from the western state of Colima. A large number of such figures have survived because they were buried deep within shaft-and-chamber tombs. Tamayo's jaguar, carrying a vessel which melds into its back, emerges out of the surrounding shadowy pattern. The jaguar was one of Mesoamerica's most significant symbolic animals, likely because it was considered the spiritual ally of shamans and priests. Although this jaguar menacingly bears its teeth, the cat's wide eye, rounded form and curled tail also highlight the playful quality that characterises many figures from Colima.

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