One of my favorite painters has always been Rufino Tamayo. As a student at Parsons The New School For Design, I emulated his color sensibilities, textural work, and seemingly simple, but sophisticated compositions.
I remember the first time I came face-to-face with a large canvas in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York. It was a thrilling experience. Even the best publishers of art books cannot duplicate the nuances of Tamayo’s work in their pages. The vibrancy of his color palette gives life to the abstracted subjects in the paintings. Many artists have tried to use bold color, but the results are crude and decorative. Tamayo’s color mastery maintains sophistication while adding playfulness and tension to the paintings. The textures are coarse and velvety at the same time.
I wanted to travel to Mexico to meet Tamayo. An opportunity presented itself in January 1991. Two of my cousins were getting married near Tamayo’s town that July. Instead of going in January, I decided to visit in July to attend the weddings and see Tamayo in the same trip.
Rufino Tamayo died on June 24, 1991. Who knows what wisdom and advice he may have given. Would my life have taken a different direction based on his words? I learned a lesson. Never expect tomorrow will be the same as today. I decided then not to delay the things that are most important to me.
Twenty years later, to my detriment, the lesson had faded. I am working on a photographic series involving aging in America. My neighbor is 100 years old. I want to photography him in his favorite chair in the sunroom of his home. My calendar was marked to take his portrait as soon as two important projects I had going were finished. A large exhibit I curated called Wide Angle View, and my Artist-In-Residence project, called Economy Portraits. The exhibit ended on March 28, and the Residency on April 9th, 2011.
On May 5, 2011, I knocked on his door, prepared to ask when I could set up a portrait session. His son answered. He informed me his father had died three weeks earlier. He almost made it to 101. It was a peaceful and painless transition. Once again, I missed out on talking to a man with a century of information to learn from.
As I am writing, it occurred to me to photograph this man’s empty chair. It will be a testament to those who have lived a fulfilling life. I will make a print and place it over my desk. It will be a gentle reminder to keep my priorities in order.
Please excuse me. I must sign off to call the son and ask to photograph the sunroom. Tomorrow his chair may not be there.