The Primordial Gaze
Words by Octavio Paz
Certain artists aspire to see what has never been seen before; others, to see in a way that no one has ever seen before. Tamayo belongs to the second lineage. To see the world with different eyes, in his case, means to see it as if his gaze were the primordial gaze. A pitiless and immediate vision, an almost inhuman clear-sightedness, rarely attained save by a very few artists. Between our gaze and the world, images previously produced by habit, culture, museums, or ideologies interpose themselves. The first thing a painter must do is to brush away from his eyes the spiderwebs of styles and schools.
The experience is dizzying and blinding: the world leaps to our eyes with the innocent ferocity of what is too alive. Seeing without intermediaries: a painful apprenticeship that never ends. Perhaps that is why painters, unlike poets, create their freshest works at the end of their days: once they have grown old they manage to see like children. Asceticism of vision: the hand learning to obey the eye and not the head, until the head stops thinking and begins to see, until the hand conceives and the eye thinks. To see the world in this way is to see it with one's whole body and mind, to regain the original unity in order to win back the original gaze. The primordial gaze: the gaze that is neither before nor afterthought, the gaze that thinks. The thinking of that gaze tears off the rind and the crust of the world, opens it like a fruit. Reality is not what we see but what we discover.
Octavio Paz, Essays on Mexican Art (USA: Harcourt Brace, 1987), p. 210, 211. Artwork by Rufino Tamayo, Woman with Pineapple, ca. 1941.