Rafael Tufiño was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1922.
Rafael Tufiño was born to Puerto Rican parents. At the turn of the century, large numbers of Puerto Ricans began relocating from the Island to the United States in search of jobs. Tufiño’s parents had come from Puerto Rico during that early migration; his mother was a tobacco worker and his father a merchant marine. He was born on Bridge Street, Brooklyn, beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, in a neighborhood that has since been dubbed Dumbo.
Tufiño first visited his parents’ homeland at age four. From 1927 to 1932 he traveled between Puerto Rico and New York, attending schools in both locations. By 1932 Tufiño had moved to Puerto Rico, where he explored drawing, sign painting, and other artistic activities, including assisting in the creation of carnival floats.
Some of Tufiño’s earliest extant drawings date to his army tenure in Panama (1943 -1946). After this, he spent one year in New York, where he established a sign shop on 110th Street and Lexington Avenue in El Barrio. In 1947 he took advantage of a G.I. bill scholarship to attend the Academia de San Carlos, Mexico, where he experimented with fresco painting, drawing, and printmaking. He became familiar with the legendary Mexican print studio Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP) and its artists, although he did not formally study there. He traveled extensively throughout the country and lived with the Zapoteca Indians. In 1948 Tufiño married a Mexican woman, Luz María (Lucha) Aguirre, and in 1949 his first daughter, Nitza, was born.
In 1950 upon his return to Puerto Rico, Tufiño expanded his growing interest in printmaking. In collaboration with Lorenzo Homar, José A. Torres Martinó, and Félix Rodriguez Báez, he founded Centro de Arte Puertorriqueña (CAP), where he honed his linocut techniques. One year later in 1951, Tufiño became a member of the División de Educación de la Comunidad (DIVEDCO), where he worked as a designer and creator of fine art posters and later as director of the printmaking workshop. During the 1950s, Tufiño produced a significant group of prints, including several renowned graphics portfolios, including El café (for which he received a Guggenheim Fellowship), and Plenas (in collaboration with Lorenzo Homar, which masterfully combined images, words, and musical scores). Tufiño painted the important large-scale mural La Plena from 1952 -1954, and, during this same period, he developed and exhibited a significant body of award-winning paintings, prints, drawings, and artist´s posters.
In 1954 the artists of the TGP in Mexico recognized the influential graphic traditions of their colleagues in Puerto Rico by hosting an exhibition; Tufiño was not able to return to Mexico until 1958. By 1963 Tufiño had begun working in the printmaking workshop of the Instituto de Cultural Puertorriqueña (ICP), where he remained until 1967. He continued to design posters for DIVEDCO through the late 1960s. In 1970 Tufiño moved back to New York for four years. With his daughter Nitza and fellow artist Carlos Osorio, Tufiño became actively involved in the nascent organization Taller Boricua (the Puerto Rican Workshop), founded in 1969 in El Barrio by Marcos Dimas, Adrian Garcia, Manuel (Neco) Otero, Armando Soto, Jorge Soto, and Martin Rubio. Taller Boricua was founded concurrently with El Museo del Barrio to foster the art and culture of Puerto Ricans and, through activism, to promote cultural pride. In fact, Taller Boricua members played a significant role in founding El Museo del Barrio.
Since 1974, Tufiño has traveled between Puerto Rico and New York. Over these many years, he has been one of the important bridges between the large artistic community on the Island with that in New York. Tufiño has inspired, mentored, and assisted many artists. He has been honored in numerous international exhibitions and is represented in the permanent collections of many institutions, including El Museo del Barrio, the Museum of Modern Art (NY), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.), El Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (PR), Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (PR), El Museo de Arte de Ponce (PR) and, most recently, the National Arts Club in New York City.