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Monday, September 16, 2013

Fernando Botero

 "Celebration" exhibit, Fernando Botero, 2012-13, Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao, Spain

Self-portrait with Flag,
Fernando Botero.
Writers and critics have to tread lightly when discussing the work of Fernando Botero. We have to choose our words carefully. Botero, by the way, is a Medellin, Colombian-born artist who seems quite intent upon living elsewhere, Paris at the moment, but also New York for several years, and an extensive list of other major art capitals around the world where he has worked and studied. Yet Botero calls himself the "most Colombian Colombian artist living today." Redundant, perhaps, but probably true; there simply aren't that many Colombian artists. Botero is a figural artist born in 1932. Having recently achieved the impressive age of eighty, he shows no sign of slowing down. Given current trends in political correctness, the reason writers have to be somewhat circumspect in discussing Botero and his work is that, without exception, his figures (often nude) are what could most politely be called "pleasingly plump." That's true even of his still-lifes, nice plump fruit.

Head of Christ, 2010,
Fernando Botero
La Giaconda, 1978,
Fernando Botero

Unlike those writing about him, Botero does not burden himself with volumetric niceties. He openly talks of his "fat" figures. Not since Hans Holbein painted Henry VIII have such figures graced art museum walls. Although it would be hard to imagine a Botero version of Henry VIII, Botero delights in creating his plump versions of the Mona Lisa, (above, left, which he titled, la Giaconda). There's also a Botero version of van Eyck's famous Arnolfini Wedding (with a very pregnant looking Mrs. Arnolfini), a quite hefty Louis XIV (ala Hyacinthe Rigaud), Adam and Eve, even Jesus Christ himself (above, right). By today's standards, none of these renderings could be considered flattering, nor, I suppose, are they meant to be. Botero makes no comments regarding today's "thin is in" standards of figural beauty, but then again, he doesn't need to. His work, most notably his sculptures (below) speak "volumes."

Liegende 1, 2010, St. Petersburg (FL), Fernando Botero. His sculptural figures are especially sensuous (nice tan). Renoir would have adored his work.

Abu Ghraib, 2005, Fernando Botero
Botero is not just about avoirdupois. He also paints current events, especially when they disturb him, as did the scandal involving the American-run Iraqi prison, Abu Ghraib (right). First exhibited in Europe during 2005, Botero did some 85 paintings accompanied by more than 100 drawings expressing his outrage--what he termed "painting out the poison." In 2007 this series was displayed at two U.S. museums. Botero refused to sell any of them, choosing instead to donated them to museums around the world. Botero has also weighed in on the drug violence in his own country with his bullet-ridden painting of Pablo Escobar, and similar images of his slain countrymen. Botero is often criticized, even hated for what is seen as his "making fun" of fat people. An overweight Mona Lisa is funny. A fat Jesus could be seen as sacrilegious. Tortured Arabs, even chubby ones, are not funny. Painted images of dead victims of Colombia's drug wars (bottom), even those responsible, regardless of their physical dimensions, are tragic.

Massacre, 2008, Fernando Botero


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