Botero is a Colombian neo-figurative artist, self-titled "the most
Colombian of Colombian artists" early on, coming to prominence when he
won the first prize at the Salón de Artistas Colombianos in 1959.
Fernando Botero's work includes still-lifes and landscapes, but Botero
tends to primarily focus on situational portraiture. His paintings and
sculptures are, on first examination, noted for their exaggerated
proportions and the corpulence of the human and animal figures. The
"large people" is what they are often called by critics. Fernando Botero
explains his use of obese figures and forms thus: "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
Fernando Botero is an abstract artist in the most fundamental sense of the word, choosing what colors, shapes, and proportions to use based on intuitive aesthetic thinking. This being said, his works are informed by a Colombian upbringing and social commentary is woven throughout his work. Fernando Botero was born in Medelín, in the department of Antioquia, Colombia, on April 19th, 1932. His father was a travelling salesman who would travel throughout the rugged, mountainous region by donkey. He passed away suddenly of a heart attack when Fernando was only 2, leaving Fernando to grow up with his mother and 2 brothers. It is said that this tragic event left Fernando Botero with a permanent emptiness, a sadness he could never fully put a face to.
Fernando Botero attended a school run by Jesuits who were very strict, and, to add enjoyment to his life, Botero began to draw and later paint. Growing up Fernando Botero became a huge fan of bullfights, which is a popular sport in Colombia, stemming from Spanish settlers. From the age of 13, he began to paint scenes of bullfights, selling them in front of the arena for 5 pesos, and later, as a professional, he spent nearly 2 years painting only that subject. His talent and knowledge of art was evident from early on. When he was only 17 he contributed an article to the Medellin newspaper, El Colombiano, titled "Picasso and the Nonconformity of Art," which also served to reveal Fernando Botero's avant-garde thinking of art. Fernando Botero used the money he received to pay for his high school education at the Liceo de Marinilla de Antioquia. Botero moved to Bogota in 1951 where he had his first solo exhibition at the Leo Matiz Gallery at the early age of 19. Every single one of Fernando Botero's art pieces sold. Later that year, Fernando Botero won the ninth edition of the Salón de Artistas Colombianos.
Fernando Botero has made an art of corpulence. Strongly influenced by the colorful folk art of his homeland and by such painters as Velázquez , Goya , and Diego Rivera, Fernando Botero attempts to "create sensuousness through form" in his canvases of rounded, massively rotund figures painted in bright decorative hues and in his sculptures (notably monumental bronzes) of similarly voluminous people and animals. Often cheerfully whimsical and sometimes satirical in approach, his work typically includes individual and family portraits, nudes, equestrian figures, bullfighting scenes, and still lifes. In 1956 Fernando Botero taught at the School of Fine Arts at the University of Bogota, Colombia and traveled to Mexico City to study the work of Rivera and Orozco. There, Fernando Botero's experience with Muralism greatly influenced his future direction as an artist. Of all the Renaissance and Baroque artists who have sparked Botero's interest, none has been as much of a magnet for his creativity as Diego Velázquez.
The greatest master of the Spanish Golden Age, Velázquez has traditionally served as both inspiration and challenge for artists from Spain and Latin America (and elsewhere, of course), Botero came into first-hand contact with Velázquez's work in Madrid, in 1952, when he studied at the Royal Academy of San Fernando. The Prado was naturally the place to which he gravitated, and Velázquez and Goya soon became his most important teachers during that period. In the 1985 Self Portrait as Velázquez,(shown here) Botero dresses himself as the Spanish artist, playing, in a post-modern sense, with realities and personalities as they are transformed by an exchange of dress. In 1969, Ferndo Botero presented his work titled Inflated Images at an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. That exhibition established Fernando Botero's reputation as a major painter worldwide. In his painting "Sunday Afternoon" (shown here), we see a family with inflated heads and rotund bodies enjoying a traditional Sunday afternoon picnic. The father reclines with a cigarette. The decadently coiffed mother tends to two bulbous children, while the son, decked out in his sailor suit stands guard behind. The cramped composition with the trees cut off by the edge of the frame, accentuates the size of the figures. Botero's use of grotesquely swollen figures may also be an attempt to criticize the rituals of the colonial bourgeoisie. Here the family is made to look degenerate in their bland setting.
Botero successfully draws from Western artistic traditions fusing them with contemporary Colombian culture. His self-conscious naive style heightens the uneasy balance between humor and social criticism, art and politics. Fernando Botero combined the regional with the universal, constantly referring to his native Colombia and also creating elaborate parodies of works of art from the past - whether Dürer, Bonnard, Velázquez or David. Not without humor, the symbols of power and authority everywhere, presidents, soldiers and churchmen, are targeted in his attacks on a society still infantile in its behavior. Beginning in the late 1990s, as drug-fueled guerrilla warfare raged in Colombia, Fernando Botero's work became much darker (though unchanged in style) as he created paintings and drawings of the period's kidnappings, massacres, torture, and death. He has continued exploring these themes in paintings that depict the abuse of detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. In the Dadaism style picture shown here Colombian painter Fernando Botero gestures in front of his new painting depicting the horrors of U.S. guards' abuse of captives at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, Monday April 11, 2005 in Paris, France. Botero says he became so upset that he felt compelled to produce works showing his trademark chubby characters naked and being blooded by Americans.