MADRID – Renowned Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero – the creator of an artistic style known as “Boterismo,” a nod to the voluminous size of his subjects – returned to Madrid on Friday to launch his first show in 20 years in the Spanish capital.
Botero (Medellin, 1932) returns to Madrid with an exhibition of his most recent paintings of exaggeratedly rotund figures of naked women, bullfighters, musicians and taverns at the Marlborough Gallery.
“In general, my painting touches on friendly topics, such as the history of painting through Tiziano, Botticelli and Velazquez, because painting is done to give pleasure above all,” Botero told EFE in an interview.
“But nowadays there has been a philosophical and intellectual shift among artists, and now any art that is pleasurable is regarded with suspicion, something that is rather absurd, but well, it’s part of today’s mentality,” the Colombian artist continued.
Although Botero’s subject matter is generally light in its content – Colombian daily life, many historical references which take on a tongue-in-cheek quality as he reinterprets historical figures such as La Monalisa (a Leonardo Da Vinci painting of Lisa Gherardini and Italian aristocrat) or Jesus Christ with his distinctive volumetric style – the artist has also created a solemn series of work such as the collection on violence in Colombia or the torture cells set of Abu Graihb.
His sculptures are very memorable and can be admired in cities and towns across the globe.
Not many artists can boast having an art style named after them, but then Botero’s work is unlike many others, and his unique way of exaggerating proportions and creating fun and surreal characters create pieces that somehow permeate and remain in people’s memories.
“I have never worked with models nor have I ever placed a dead piece of nature on the table to paint it,” Botero said, highlighting that his works do not aim to depict reality and that he has never been a naturalist painter. “Everything comes from my imagination, I have never wanted to be a prisoner to reality.”
As a young man the artist started training as a matador but after two weeks abandoned bullfighting to pursue his passion for art. Bulls feature heavily in his work.
Discussing his love of bullfighting Botero said that perhaps it was thanks to the sport that he found his passion for painting: “I started painting lots of canvasses of bulls and bullfighting, perhaps that’s why I am a painter?”
He moved to Europe in the early 1950s and dived into the classics, visiting the Prado and analyzing and studying art history greats like Francisco Goya and Diego Velazquez.
In the 1960s he moved to New York where he became acquainted with the New York School, a movement that brought together painters, poets and musicians.
In art, abstract expressionism was the chosen philosophical aesthetic represented by action painting, a style where the artist dribbles, splashes and smears paint off the brush onto the canvass.
His flirtation with gestural brush-strokes was short-lived and he soon settled into what has now become the style and technique he is known for, flat surfaces of color-imbued plump figures.
After a stint in the United States the artist returned and settled in Europe, however, he said he still feels very Colombian.
“I am very close to my country, even though I may not visit frequently, it is in my imagination,” Botero continued. “All of my paintings are of Colombia, I read Colombian press and I find out about everything through my friends.”
“I am Colombian by passport and in my soul, and the fact violence in Colombia is descending this makes me feel optimistic,” the artists added.
Botero lives in Monaco and has homes in Greece and Italy because his health requires him to live at sea level, he said.
From the minute he wakes he picks up his brushes and spends most of his hours coating canvasses in color and bountiful bodies.
He no longer sculpts, although16 of his sculptures are set to be exhibited in Hong Kong in March.
The Madrid exhibition runs in parallel to the opening of ARCO, the yearly international art fair that takes place in the Spanish capital, although when asked if he would be visiting the fair he said he does not go to exhibitions because they are a waste of time.
“When I go to something it is to see a masterpiece or a great museum such as the Prado because I want to see paintings that make me feel happy and give me pleasure,” Botero said.
“I believe in visual arts, performances and video art are something else,” the Colombian added.
“When one is admiring Las Meninas (“Ladies in Waiting” a Velazquez painting) one doesn’t need an explanation of what it is because it is beautiful,” Botero concluded.
The exhibition runs until March 30.