Colombia’s most celebrated living painter and sculptor, Fernando Botero, was once asked to define artistic style. The test, he replied, lay with the humble orange. Despite universal qualities of size and shape, an orange depicted by one artist will be impossible to mistake for an orange painted by another. ‘The spectator,’ Botero said, ‘isn’t merely witness to the fruit but to a style… Whenever people stand in front of my paintings or in front of my sculpture, they not only see a pear or an apple… they immediately recognize a Botero.’
Few artists have created such an immediately recognizable style as Botero. His hyper-inflated, voluptuous figures, his semi-satirical Old Master pastiches, his cast of bullfighters, bishops, guerillas and gangsters form one of the most unique bodies of work in 20th and 21st-century art – a powerful, often humorous exploration of power, politics and art in contemporary Latin America.
Born in Medellín, Botero had his first show in Bogotá aged 19. In his early 20s he studied in Florence and Madrid, where he was enthralled by the works of the high Renaissance and Spanish Baroque which would continue to inform his practice, from early pieces such as his Velázquez-inspired Girl Lost in a Garden (1959) to After Piero della Francesca (1998). By 1958 Botero was teaching at Bogotá’s Academy of Art before, in the early 1960s, moving his studio to New York, where his hallmark style began to emerge with works such as Mona Lisa, Age Twelve (1961) and Presidential Family (1967). In a period dominated by Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, Botero’s work reinvigorated the figurative tradition, earning him great critical success. During the 1970s he moved to Paris and began experimenting with sculpture, producing works such as Big Hand (1976-77).
As a 14-year-old boy, Botero had sold his first drawing for two pesos — a sketch of the bullfighting school where he was himself studying. By the 1980s, Botero’s success was earning him large public commissions. Broadgate Venus (1989) appeared in London in 1990, and Botero Plaza in Medellín is now home to 23 of his sculptures.
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