Sunday, February 25, 2018

Fernando Botero by Kathleen Embury

 "An artist is attracted to certain kinds of form without knowing why. You adopt a position intuitively; only later do you attempt to rationalize or even justify it." -Fernando Botero, 1992

Fernando Botero was born in Medellin, Columbia, in 1932, a highly commercial city in the Andes.  Growing up surrounded by the Baroque-esque colonial churches and bustling city influenced his style from the start. As his father died when he was a child, Botero's uncle played a large role in his life, sending him to a school for matadors after he completed secondary school at the Jesuit School of Bolivar.  After finishing his education, Botero moved first to Bogotá, and then to various cities with rich art scenes such as Madrid and Paris, where he studied works in the Louvre.  Botero returned to Columbia when he first married, during which he had three children, and on to New York for 14 years after he divorced in 1960.  Botero married twice more, tragically losing his only child from his second marriage in a car accident.  He settled in Paris with his third wife, Greek artist Sophia Vari, with whom he currently frequently travels and owns a home in Pietrasanta, Italy.

Early on, Botero's works were mainly inspired by famous artists such as Diego Rivera and José Orozco.  The avante garde Columbian art scene he was exposed to early on influenced his diversion from traditional art.  He started out focusing on still life paintings and landscapes, where his signature style became apparent:
In Red and Blue, 1976, Oil on Canvas.

Orange, 1977, Oil on Canvas
In these, some of Botero's earlier works, Botero's exaggeration of proportion and volume is already exemplified.  Though his personal aesthetic would become even more apparent as he honed his unique artistic style, it can be seen here that he is following his instincts to draw in distortion, such as with the tiny sound hole in the center of the large, bulbous shaped instrument in In Red and Blue. Botero himself claimed that an orange is the best subject to reflect an artist's individual style.  The painting above can be immediately recognized as a Botero based on it's perfectly round shape, bold colors, and tiny details (i.e. the minuscule worm). 

Soon Botero settled into focusing on drawing human figures and self portraiture, where his unique style shined through in abstract colors, proportions, and volumes.  Commonly known as "fat figures," his works actually display an expansion of volume that fills space, creating large contrast with tiny details, not fatness.  For example, in El Arraste below, it can be seen that the human figures are not "fat" per se, as everything else is also swollen and expanded: the horses, the bull, as well as the men, who are in turn far to small in relation to the enormous bull.  Botero has his own distortion of reality that is instantly recognizable.  His style came through during his brief venture into sculpture as well, as can be seen in his expanded Horse.
El Arraste, 1987, Oil on Canvas

 Horse, 1992, Park Avenue, New York, New York

Some of Botero's most distinctive works were his renditions of other artists' famous works, such as Goya's and Da Vinci's.  Rather than trying to copy them, he interpreted them in his own unique style, influenced by exaggerating volumes and expressionism.  His imitation of Da Vinci is striking and immediately recognized as a Botero, with the Mona Lisa's  tiny hands and small facial features in relation to an otherwise round and enlarged form:
Mona Lisa, 1978, Oil on Canvas

More recently, Botero gained attention for a series of paintings displaying the violence of U.S. forces against prisoners  in Abu Ghraib during the Iraq war.  Other recent subjects include Une Famille, a collection focused on the common Columbian family, and an oil and watercolor collection Circus in 2010.  Some examples of these are shown below.  His works have been exhibited all over the world, including in Washington D.C., The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Japan, Russia, and The National Museum of Columbia, to name a few.
Family Scene, 1967, Oil on Canvas
"Abu Ghraib 7," 2004, Sanguine on Paper
"Contortionist," 2007, Oil on Canvas

I chose Botero because I had never seen anything like his work before.   I love how Botero uses such advanced techniques of shading and value, but still many of his works seem somewhat child-like, seeming to be made to make the viewer laugh and smile.  Yet he is still able to depict serious subjects, modifying his unique style to fit the mood he wants to create in the viewer, as with his Abu Ghraib collection.  I was most drawn to his renditions of other famous works we know so well, such as the Mona Lisa above.  I normally gravitate toward a more realistic style of drawing and painting, and so I waned to go outside of my comfort zone by looking at abstract artists. Botero's use of bold colors and lively subjects popped out to me, somehow seeming so alive while clearly a distortion of reality. His style of drawing inflated volumes and bloated figures while creating such large contrast with tiny details is intriguing and delightful.


Botero, Juan Carlos. The Art of Fernando Botero. Ediciones el Viso, 2013. Print.

Botero, Fernando, and Rudy Chiappini. Botero. Skira, 2017. Print.

Schatz, Jean Ershler. "Biography: Fernando Botero." askART, 2004, Web. 25 Feb 2018.

International Artists. "Biography from Vared Gallery." askART, Web. 25 Feb 2018.

Botero, Fernando, Colombian, b.1932. In Red and Blue. Web. 25 Feb 2018.

Botero, Fernando, Columbian b. 1932, Orange. Web. 25 Feb 2018. 

Botero, Fernando, b. 1932, El Arraste. Web 25 Feb 2018. 

Fernando Botero. Horse. 1992. Web. 25 Feb 2018.

Botero, Fernando, Columbia b. 1932, Mona Lisa. Web. 25 Feb 2018. 

Botero, Fernando, Columbia b. 1932, "Abu Ghraib 7." Web. 25 Feb 2018. 

Botero, Fernando, 1932-. Family Scene. 1967. Web. 25 Feb 2018.

Botero, Fernando, Columbia b. 1932, "Contortionist." Web. 25 Feb 2018. 

Fernando Botero (1992). “Fernando Botero: Paintings and Drawings”, Prestel Pub.

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