Fernando Botero is a Colombian-born painter and sculptor known for his large-scale works with exaggerated features. Botero’s artworks are internationally recognized and have been exhibited in the leading museums around the world. The artist positions himself as a purely Colombian creator, as he draws inspiration from his native culture and traditions.
We spoke to Botero about his path as an artist, sources of inspiration, and key cultural influences in his works.
“That’s what makes an artist a true artist: the passion and love he has for his craft and the will to pursue it every day of his life.”
Artistic coming of age
Recalling his earlier experiences, Fernando Botero says: “I have always said that, if you are a true painter, everything you see is an excuse to paint. It is true that I didn’t have any professional training in painting, but I had an enormous passion for painting and drawing. Ever since I was a boy, I have only found true pleasure in the art of painting.”
“I had a curious experience once, as I was trying to paint a man standing in front of me. I went to a market and started painting someone, but the man realized that I was painting him. Suddenly, he came and tore my sheet; that is how I learned that one could not paint a model in that way. I could not be looking at someone and painting them because that could bother the person,” – he adds, reflecting on the key moments that shaped the direction of his career.
Botero goes on to say: “After that, I have never ever painted with a model in front. Not in any of my works. My works are traces of my memory. I can express with the help of my memory all those atmospheres and characters, all of the “paisa” [rural] culture I lived in for 20 years. Things like this remain within you; it was where I learned to live, it’s this entire wonderful atmosphere that remains deep in your memory.”
Philosophy of exaggeration
Speaking of the style of his artworks, Botero mentions that he is interested “in expressing the manifestation of volume in art”.
“I started to paint these volumetric figures when I was seventeen. There are still watercolours of my most early works that you can find in catalogues that have a particular disproportion of the form,” – he says, adding: “But I did not know why I did it; I did it by intuition because it said something to me. Then, when I was in Europe, especially Italy, I rationalised the importance of the volume because I saw that all Italian painters like Michelangelo, Raphael, Giotto, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca made a celebration of volume.”
“There is a great use of volume, especially in Italian painting, which is volumetric. They did it to exalt the sensuality of the subject, to exalt the form and colour; everything in those paintings was a celebration. Art is always an exaggeration. The painter exaggerates the colour or the shape or exaggerates the line,” – Botero concludes, adding: “If you want to be an artist, always look up after those great artists that inspire you and push you to be a better person, a better artist and constantly keep learning every day.”
Reflecting on his decision to move to Paris in the 1970s, Botero mentions: “I always had that feeling that I wanted to feel and touch all my paintings and give them a three-dimensional aspect. In 1972, I decided that I wanted to learn the art of sculpting and fully committed myself to a whole year in Pietrasanta in Italy to learn to sculpt. I started doing small figures, very shy, and then learned how to give them more volume, more power, and more magnitude.”
Power of Latin American artistic tradition
“For art to be universal, it has to be local. I come from a very humble city of Medellin. There were no museums, no cultural institutions, and no tradition in art. For me it is amazing how I was attracted to become an artist growing up in a city where there was none of the mentioned above,” – the artist recalls.
“I have always said “What you achieve in life, is a function of your admirations”. The most important thing in life is who you admire.”
Commenting on the strong influences of his native culture, Botero says: “I have always painted all my childhood memories from Colombia, even though I left Colombia at a very young age. I have always been very much inspired by the great masters of the history of art, but always managed to paint in a way that has always been very local yet managed to speak in a universal language. I am inspired to know that my work definitely speaks a universal language.”
Magic in Full Form
The exhibition “Botero: Magic in Full Form” will be held in Japan to celebrate Botero’s ninetieth year. In 2022, for the first time in twenty-six years, Botero’s art will be back in Japan, and the exhibition will tour around three venues in the country. Botero himself has overseen the selection for this exhibition, and it includes a total of seventy pieces of oil paintings, watercolour paintings, and drawings, many of which will be seen in Japan for the first time. The display of Mona Lisa’s Profile (2020), a recent addition to Botero’s ongoing series of paintings based on the Mona Lisa, is no doubt eagerly awaited by many. Botero remains prolific even now, and “Botero: Magic in Full Form” offers a new encounter with the artist.
Tokyo: Bunkamura The Museum, 29 April – 3 July 2022
Nagoya: Nagoya City Art Museum, 16 July – 26 September 2022
Kyoto: Kyoto City KYOCERA Museum of Art, 8 October – 11 December 2022