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Articles Blog

Fernando Botero

Karyn Planett

Colombia’s Famous Artist

“Man needs spiritual expression and nourishing… even in the prehistoric era, people would scrawl pictures of bison on the walls of caves.”

So said Fernando Botero whose paintings aren’t scrawled on the walls of dank, dark caves but instead hang in the properly-lighted galleries of world-renowned museums and private collections all around the world.  His distinctive statues grace other galleries, plazas, and parks from one country to the next. These iconic pieces of art have a completely unique style that is immediately recognizable for its “smooth inflated shapes” and distorted scale.  This is a theme that has been present throughout Botero’s creative life and this talent has served him well making him one of the most important artists of our time.

Early Life

It was in the Colombian city of Medellin that Fernando Botero came into this world on April 19, 1932, his full name being Fernando Botero Angulo. When still only a child he showed his artistic gift, even submitting illustrations to El Colombiano, the Medellin newspaper. This was an important first step because his earnings gave him the funds to finance his art studies.  Initially Botero had dreamed of becoming a matador and was beginning formal training before switching his interest to art.

At age 16, he enjoyed the first exhibition of his work.  Prior to his 20th birthday, Botero relocated to Bogotá where he gained notoriety with his first one-man show that was proudly displayed at the Leo Matiz Gallery.  Shortly thereafter, the artist won Second Prize at Bogota’s National Salon. His inspiration, it’s claimed, came from Spanish colonial art as well as pre-Colombian works.  Their distinctive looks gave him the artistic fodder, the inspiration, for his own work.  So, too, Diego Rivera’s murals with their political themes. He was the Mexican painter and muralist whose art depicted his nation’s native and working class peoples. In addition to Diego Rivera, Botero drew inspiration from the 17th-century Spanish painter Diego Velázquez and Spanish romantic painter and printmaker Francisco de Goya.

Botero visited the European continent with the purpose of viewing the Old Masters’ works displayed in museums in France, Spain, and Italy. He soon began his studies in earnest at the San Fernando Academy in Madrid as well as the Academy of San Marcos in Florence.  Per the Encyclopedia Britannica, during his schooling in Madrid, Botero copied paintings that were displayed in the famous Prado Museum as a way to earn his livelihood.

Then, at the age of 24, the artist presented his subject’s first inflated profile to the world.  It was entitled Still Life With Mandolin.  Not long after, he furthered his reputation as an important artist by winning top honors at Bogota’s National Salon, the coveted prize that had eluded him a few years earlier.

An International Journey

Not yet in his 30s, Botero moved to New York. The artist enjoyed excellent reviews there while not experiencing the same acceptance in other major art markets. Within one year, his painting entitled Mona Lisa, Age Twelve was purchased by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Botero’s style evolved further during his time in New York where he introduced a much smoother texture to his images.  After a dozen or so years, the artist was drawn back to the European continent where he settled in Paris. He passed the time studying the masters on view at the Louvre. At this point in his life he continued his painting but started creating sculptures adding this three-dimension format to his repertoire.  Many of those pieces were presented to a larger audience worldwide as open-air exhibits. The artist continued to expand on his themes of a political nature with many important representations of high-ranking people in power.

Assessment and Accolades

Art historians suggest Botero’s fleshy, rotund figures speak to the artist’s particular interest in Latin-American folk art. As well, they point to the rather bold colors and flat representation in his paintings that also seemed to have drawn inspiration from folk art. They suggest that, ultimately, Botero introduced a level of political satire into his paintings with images of important figures as he saw them.

This very handsome, silver-hair man is considered to be one of Latin America’s most admired artists with his style called “Boterism.” There are several books outlining the life and success of Fernando Botero as well as two films, Botero: Four Seasons and The Rotund World of Fernando Botero. In 2012, Fernando Botero was the proud recipient of the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture award.

Fernando Botero is quoted as saying; “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.”

As you stroll the streets of Colombian cities, you’ll pass many shops selling reproductions of Botero’s famous pieces.  If you speak to one of the locals you’ll discover that many citizens, as well as art historians worldwide, consider Fernando Botero to be the most Colombian of all Colombian artists.  His presence across the land would suggest that is true.