Rufino Tamayo filtered his pre-Columbian heritage through the pictorial tradition of European Modernism in images of man’s confrontation with the forces of nature and the universe. In several paintings of 1946–47 he showed primitive figures gesticulating in terror, awe, or longing at the patterns of astral and planetary orbits.
The lines traversing the sky in Heavenly Bodies may represent light emanating from stars or the tails of meteors, and may also indicate the mental constructs that join stars in constellations. These lines dissect the rich blue sky into flat planes and simultaneously provide the illusion of movement through a vast space. The purity of the sky’s geometry is contrasted with the unevenly curving contours of the human figure, associated formally with the earth. A setting sun is evoked by the red strip on the hill and is reflected on the man’s face. While bearing some relation to Mexican folk art, the treatment of the figure derives more directly from the work of Pablo Picasso. The combination of frontal and profile view, the gaping mouth and conical eye, the shorthand outlining of the face and outstretched, childlike hand have analogies in works such as Picasso’s Guernica of 1937 (Collection Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid), which Tamayo had occasion to see in New York.