Known for his modernist paintings, Rufino Tamayo was also one of Mexico’s most prolific printmakers. In 1921, the artist worked in the Department of Ethnographic Drawings at the National Museum of Archaeology with José Vasconcelos, Mexico’s then secretary of education. At the time, Vasconcelos advocated a re-envisioning of Mexico’s national identity through a blending of contemporary indigenous culture with pre- and post-Conquest cultural elements. Created in New York, this early woodcut can be seen as Tamayo’s response to Vasconcelos’s ideas.

Likely drawn from the artist’s Zapotec heritage in his home state of Oaxaca, Hombre con maguey features an armed revolutionary peasant defending his ancestral farmlands. The agave, an important symbol for this land, was central to the agriculture of the area. Tamayo’s similar stylistic treatment of both the figure and the landscape suggests their underlying connectedness.