Fernando Botero has died, enhancer of the fat colors of life and antagonist of contemporary artistic anorexia


The inspiration, creative flair, genius is useless, if this grandeur is not always accompanied by hard work and sacrifice. Along with this dedication to work there was always the choice of one's life: «Do what we like, never stop doing what you like and what makes you feel good".

- Actuality -

Jorge Facio Lynx
President of Editions The island of Patmos


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I grew up thereshadow of the first sculpture by the master Fernando Botero, woman torso, known to all as the fat girl O the GOrda de Berrio in reference to the Parque de Berrío square where the statue was located before its move to the theme park created in honor of the artist. This statue gigantic and voluminous it was built in 1987 and measure of 2 meters e 48 centimeters tall, one meter and 76 in width, 1 metro e 7 centimeters deep.

The statue had been installed in front of the regional headquarters of the State Bank and in front of a square that was one of the main bus and taxi stops, as well as being a meeting point. The shape of the sculpture always left me amazed and wondering: «Women are not like that, which colombian woman is fat like this?!». Yet my gaze always remained fixed on that work illuminated in a play of lights by the sun when the sun rose or set..

All the born in recent decades of the last century were delighted to observe this sculpture while the transformation of the city was underway with the construction of Colombia's first metro network in the City of Medellin, which marked the leap forward of the Andean metropolis from a semi-industrial agricultural city towards the new millennium which would project it towards tourism, including artistic tourism, thanks not least to maestro Fernando Botero. In some metro stations there are works of art inspired by him, in others you can feel his spirit and style and in one particularly, the one near the square where his stands Gorda today a beautiful thing rises art park with several voluminous Boterian statues.

In those years there was noIt was an exhibition space intended for this great interpreter of our time, in fact there was no real space for art at all. And for me, as for many of my other compatriots, the first reference to the world of fine arts was the master Fernando Botero, whose artistic creativity we were able to catch even in passing while waiting for some transport service or some person. Today, the new generations, not only can they contemplate the numerous works scattered throughout the city, because thanks to his patronage - which made him the greatest contemporary patron that the city of Medellin and Colombia itself had - he favored the creation of the various exhibition spaces with his works and those of European masters, previously excluded if they were not mentioned in history books and encyclopedias [1].

The figure of Fernando Botero it has always been outside the artistic environment for me, model and memory of a virile figure with whom I grew up, so were my grandparents and the men of my land. Always interested in the good of the family, in union and harmony in beautiful moments as well as in difficult and painful ones. A family unit also involved in the interests and activities of paterfamilias, as the Master's children have said on several occasions, when in their father's memory they explained that in the creation of their works he asked them to help him paint the canvas. Some details were then used by him as decorations in the lower margins of his works, other children's jobs have been cancelled, but in them remained the memory and the teaching of having helped their father by participating in his artistic efforts.

This kind of men they tried to nourish the habit, today unfortunately lost or forgotten, to get the family together to spend time in a specific place. Of course, in the case of the maestro, one cannot help but admire his high taste for having chosen the beautiful Tuscan town of Pietrasanta in the province of Lucca[2]. like the environment in which every time he could he had his whole family come to live days with moments full of affection to remember for a lifetime. Even before developing his style and his works, one of the main teachings that he never stopped transmitting, especially to his family and his few friends - Botero was a very private person - it was his work: «there is only one 5% inspirational and 95% of sweating", because in his view every kind of job had to be so well done and tiring that it made you sweat.

The inspiration, creative flair, the genius they are of no use, if this grandeur is not always accompanied by hard work and sacrifice. Along with this dedication to work there was always the choice of one's life: «Do what we like, never stop doing what you like and what makes you feel good". In one of the latest documentaries made in his honor, the teacher, at the end of the video, he looks sitting on a chair in front of a small and simple house typical of the rural areas of the city. Speaking to the interviewer he complains of the sadness he felt due to the knowledge that he would soon die and he still had many things to do, and this made him feel happy. The work, that job he had chosen to follow all his life, it gave him pleasure, because he chose to do so.

The characteristic style dthe artist called “butterism", it is not made up of fat but "voluminous" figures depicted in different scenarios and situations, following the European tradition that came to life in the Renaissance with Michelangelo, Mantegna, Raffaello, Piero della Francesca[3]. Accompanied in his sculptural art by the inspiration of the serene monumentalism of Paolo Uccello. A figurative style combined with a colorful and lovable aesthetic that drew inspiration from the dramatic style of the early years muralists Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco, subsequently deepened during his stay in Europe while studying in the Academies of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Spain, with studies on the works of Goya and Velázquez, and at the Accademia Fiorentina di San Marco with the study of Titian's works, Giotto and Botticelli[4]. The Master thus projects himself into the 1980s with the development of the expanded volume of the form which, despite the "exaggerated" dimensions, does not disturb the proportion of the figure in all its characteristics., without giving up those influences that are the traits of his Colombian homeland, vibrant color, lively and brilliant, inspired by his own hometown of Medellin, known for urbanizations rich in exaggerated and marked chromaticism that recalls that style naive capable of transmitting the carefree notes of a peaceful life in the open air, up to the painful "accents" of the violence seen and experienced.

It seems that in the fifties the Master found its stylistic dimension when in the creation of the still life study he applied the "dilation" to the mandolin. The artist was viscerally struck by the result of his form dilated beyond the natural, thus generating the evocation of a profound sensuality as a sign of vitality, of joy and prosperity that this voluminous expression will become in the years to come, original character all of its own recognized worldwide. This is how he describes this significant moment in an interview in 2007:

«What happened was very simple. I was drawing a mandolin with a very generous profile as I learned from the Italians. Then, the moment I cut the hole in the mandolin, I made it very small. Suddenly, this mandolin became huge, monumental due to the contrast between the small detail and the generous outline. I saw that something happened there. I immediately started trying to visualize other subjects. It took a long time – 10, 15 years – before I developed a more or less coherent vision of what I wanted to do, but at the beginning it was that little sketch inspired by my love for Italian art" (see WHO).

At the beginning of the seventies its commercial listing begins[5] and critical acclaim, after he had taken up residence in Europe[6]. It was then that the Maestro began to create sculptures following the voluminous style that seems to emerge from the canvases to acquire the three-dimensionality known in his works scattered around the world[7].

The Eighties, until the first years of the new century, characterize the master's artistic research with depictions and scenes of violence experienced with the war on drug trafficking in Medellin and the pictorial cycle on the different report on the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison by members of the United States military and the CIA during the Iraq war.

Regardless of public and commercial recognition, a certain form of artistic criticism has never been positive or lenient towards him. Since his first exhibitions in the United States, several North American critics have judged him in a destructive manner - unlike the public who has deeply appreciated him since his first works - defining the artist and his art as «not belonging to contemporary evolution; simplistic and caricatured human figures inserted in sunny contexts of family life; lack of seriousness about his sculptures which deprived him of a specific critical examination". But to define it: «A simple commercial phenomenon of a self-referential author disconnected from reality» (see WHO).

Although this may appear to be a subjective or biased judgement, I think I can say that the Master was one of the few, if not the last great artist who during his lifetime had maintained the quality and value of his works at a very high level. Also in this regard there are several testimonies told by the family members themselves who remember times in the past, during periods of difficulty and economic hardship, when he was already recognized for his skill but had not yet had any economic results, but full of so much imagination, walked through the cities where, if he found some piece of wood or steel that he thought would be useful to him, he would take it and use it to create toys for his children or utensils for the house. The lack of money therefore abounded with imagination and the desire to always create something new and useful.

The Maestro was a great enthusiast of many sports, especially football, one of the most followed sports in his native Colombia, especially in Medellin. This great interest in football among Colombians, from the first years of life, finds confirmation in the work Children playing soccer (children playing football).

Horse riding is represented indirectly on a canvas that turned out to be the work that marked one of the saddest moments of the artist's life: Pedro on horseback. Painting described by the Author himself as the painting he had painted with the greatest pain in his life and for this reason he considered it the work he loved most and also his master work. This canvas was born from the mourning he had with the death of his four-year-old son in a car accident in Spain in the Seventies. This canvas is located in the museum of the Author's region of origin and is a portrait where blue predominates of a child riding a toy horse, in the lower corners the painful scenes of the father who saw his dead son and then the scene of the grieving parents inside the empty house are depicted (see WHO).

The cycle of his bullfighting works mainly made in the 1980s, it is considered as the "artist's confession", a reflection on death and its presence in an exercise of nostalgia and struggle on the dramatic scenes of bullfighting. Personally I remember my period of study at the University of Salamanca, when a professor tries to argue the meaning and universal value of bullfighting, explained that before the race the bulls lived free, strong and served like gods. Only the strongest and most majestic specimens were chosen who had earned the opportunity to demonstrate all their race and panache in the Arena., "on equal terms" between the ugly and pure power of the bull against the mastery of the dance and provocation of the bullfighter. In the opinion of the professor of classical culture, it is a modern version of the gladiator fight, or even more the modern evocation of man's struggles against the mythological and divine figures of antiquity; where the skill of the man who fights and even puts his life at risk, without anything written or defined as in game managed only by, of fate.

As an explanation of bullfighting made the subject of the Master's pictorial art, the traditions of his native homeland remain. In the same city of Medellin there is a very renowned Arena in the Andean area, and the opening of the season racing it marked a particularly significant date in the social life of the citizens. If football matches were the epicenters of passion and popular interests in the city, the days in the arena with its bullfighting shows were the fulcrum for the city's upper middle class classes.

According to some sources close to the master it was the taste for bullfighting that generated the love for painting in the young Fernando Botero. Significant, within this pictorial cycle, the work The goring, oil on canvas, 1998. Emblematic demonstration of the artist's passion for bulls and his reflection on death characterized by the satisfying expression depicted on the bullfighter's face after being gored. Other relevant works are dying bull 1985, Death of Ramfrom the Torres, 1986.

The cycle of works on violence in Colombia has raised many questions in South American academic and art critical circles regarding the relationship between reality and art, especially how they feed, art and violence align or deny each other. For some, the connection between art and reality in these works maintains a possible meaning only on a social level as the artist's representation constitutes an "objectification" of the experience to make it accessible to those who contemplate it. As a result, the artist's creations, they are a rational necessity, not a simple desire, nor a whim or a psychological need. Those who look at those works are encouraged to focus their attention on the concrete state of social reality or of the individual, without promoting or glorifying an ideological or political system that would end up putting the very autonomy of art at risk, making it a political tool or a means of dissuasion and distraction for those who observe the artistic work.

Others consider this connection to form a single whole which allows both the artist and those who observe his works the possibility of grasping a position and a concrete choice of a specific historical moment of life and reality. Creating like this, not the arbitrary creative sense of inspiration and/or contemplation; but as a condition of possibility both for artistic creativity and for the culture and subjective experience of those who contemplate. The condition of possibility and/or choice becomes, like this, a compromise of individual production that offers meaning and purpose to works of art as aspirations, motivations for the community and for the singularity of both the artist and the visitor.

Other opinions have cataloged this pictorial cycle as a hedonistic act of a self-referential artist who lives in a pseudo-expressionist "limbo" of failed realism intensified by the accentuation of certain particular aspects through grotesque figures that bring the gravity of the armed conflict experienced in Colombia to a trivialization very close to caricature. The Maestro himself had to return to talk about his pictorial cycle on several occasions, in one of them he said:

«I have always expressed, and I did it until recently: art is to give pleasure and not to annoy or distress the public. Who has seen a sad impressionist painting? when you saw a sad Titian? a sad Velazquez? Great painting has a positive attitude towards life. I am against art that transforms itself into a witness of time as a combat weapon. But faced with the drama that was experienced in Colombia, the moment had come in which I felt the moral obligation to leave my testimony on the irrational moment in the history of my country. I don't pretend that these paintings can fix anything, in fact I am convinced that they will not solve anything. I am aware that art changes nothing, those responsible for the changes are solely politicians. I just want to leave a testimony as an artist who lived and felt his homeland and his time. It would be like saying: look at the madness in which we live, Let's hope it never happens again. I don't do "committed art", that art that aspires to transform things, I don't believe in that kind of art" (see WHO)

The cycle of works on the female world of maestro Botero the large number of works demonstrates the artist's attention and interest in women, a theme that he himself considers to be one of the main themes of universal art. The choice to represent voluminous women contrary to the canon of thinness imposed on women, it is not so much a choice of protest against the stereotypes that are inculcated as a model of beauty, but as a style and personal conviction as a painter and sculptor who transforms the shapes of voluminous subjects into a source of joy. And art must always generate and transmit pleasure. The voluminousness, according to Fernando Botero, was born in flat painting during the Middle Ages, but it was Italian artists who developed the volume from the Renaissance onwards. The voluminousness is almost a "sort of miracle" that still remains as it is. Today this volume - reiterates the Maestro - has become part of the history and of the very perception of art. But it was like a "lightning bolt" that can still be seen and whose sound can still be heard; miracle from which, today again, we were amazed. Among the most significant works of these themes there are numerous paintings of an erotic nature such as Woman with lipstick (woman with lipstick) watercolor and ink on paper, 2002, Bath, pencil work on paper, 2002.

So far, there is no total figure for the number of works by the artist, nor even a reasoned and updated catalog - also considering the many donations of works that the Maestro has made in recent years, including many works and most of his most representative sculptures -, cycles like that of violence still exist, but also a series of paintings from his youth - it must be considered that the artist painted almost every day from the age of 14 years until the compliment of his 90 year old; works that are private property of the family and have not been catalogued. In the same way, what is missing is a detailed survey around the world of "boterist" art; according to the rough estimate it could exceed more 2000 works between canvases, sketches, caricatures and illustrations for newspapers.

Among his exhibitions in Italy must be considered: Rome, Palazzo Venezia, 2005, where he presented his pictorial cycle to the public with fifty canvases that testified to the screams of protest full of a disturbing force against the injustice committed against prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Works where one must note the care taken in the use of perspective which changes based on the positioning of the prison bars: the spectator is projected both outside and inside the cells. All this enhances the sense of identification in victims, almost as if there was a reversal of position between those who observe and those who suffer, functional to feel the suffering of others. The images appear more compromising, deeply disturbing and disturbing, as much as the crimes committed. The artistic urgency to express the anger and indignation felt, meant that the Colombian artist dedicated himself to the project for over a year and that in the end, according to what he himself said, it led him to a sense of emptiness where he had nothing left to say. Following Palermo, Palace of the Normans, 2015, considered the artistic event of the year in the city, and in which maestro Botero himself declared that for the creation of Judas he was inspired by a mafioso as contained in this beautiful testimony of his:

«I was fascinated by Italian art and the importance it gives to shapes and volume. I was seduced by the sensuality of Italian painting, by its roundness. Now thinner shapes are preferred, thin women, but at the beginning of the century, rounder ones were preferred. A sensitivity that changes" (see WHO).

In 2016 did a traveling exhibition with the most significant stops in Palermo and Rome entitled: Way of the cross. Christ's passion in which he addressed one of the most covered themes in Western sacred painting from the Renaissance to the present day: the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Cycle of sumptuous colors and shapes through rounded and cold subjects. Recurring sacred theme even though the teacher is not considered a religious person, however, he recognized how the religious theme had in itself a beautiful and long artistic tradition. The Way of the cross, centerpiece of the exhibition, it is the artist's reinterpretation in which he mixes Latin American traditions and realities with the biblical theme, demonstrating the importance of the drama of Jesus' last days which marked the whole of humanity forever. In these oils Jesus appears very human, without halos, interpreter of the suffering of the world. The master's research is done on the combination of historical truth mixed with some truths, such as for example the use of contemporary characters connected to the image of Christ who testifies with Botero's own style to his being a believer but not a practitioner, profoundly respectful of the sphere of the sacred without falling into satire. The Master's in-depth study of the dramatic subject - a subject studied as a favorite theme of art until the sixteenth century - which in the twentieth century could have and offer a new vision according to contemporary sensitivity (see WHO).

In 2017, at Palazzo Forti in Verona, the monographic exhibition was held to pay homage to fifty years of career with 50 masterpieces that summarized the dreamlike dimension, fantastic and fairy-tale with an echo of nostalgia among animals, men; re-enactment of his native continent of Latin America. An exhibition followed in Bologna, at Palazzo Pallavicini, in the autumn of 2019, with 50 works including mixed media drawings and color watercolors with the theme of bullfighting and the circus (see WHO)

It will remain in the memory and in the history of art the exhibition Boatman to Parma with 47 plaster casts, bronzes and several paintings at the Governor's Palace in 2013. During, the opening party the Master declared:

«Art must give pleasure to the public, do not cause suffering or disturb. Sculptures and paintings must speak clearly" there must be no barriers to understanding" (see WHO)

There are countless sculptures by the master Fernando Botero around the world but for the love that the Fathers of The Island of Patmos have towards cats ― faithful companions of hard work and long days of work in the creation of their texts ― we must mention the Botero's Cat, sculpture by 7 meters wide per 2 meters high and 2 thick with long tail and comical snout, now a distinctive symbol of the Raval neighborhood of Barcelona. Mammoth cat that between the 1987, year in which the municipality of Barcelona purchased it, and the 2003, changed location within the city more than four times - almost as if to represent the felines that will continually circle and move until they have found the perfect place to stay, like our cat Bruno who climbed onto my computer desk while I was writing these lines about Botero's cat, turning forcefully in front of me, sometimes preventing the view of the screen or other times sitting on the keyboard as master of the space. Indeed, as happened with Botero's Cat, he has to try different seats and body positions before choosing what he thinks will be the most comfortable place, solemn and more visible (see WHO).

Vittorio Sgarbi in an interview given on the day of the Maestro's death, regarding the figure of Fernando Botero he defined him as an artist of life. A painter who in each of his works represents the scene of a comedy where both the context of the work and the subject of the canvas themselves tell a song to life in their daily lives. This joy and cheerfulness of Botero was in a certain sense revolutionary against the common thread of twentieth-century art, especially that generated by the avant-gardes who have certainly and masterfully expressed the crisis, the tragedy and drama of man and civilization after two wars, with psychoanalysis and the social struggle for the freedoms and rights of the sexes. On the one hand it is very easy to paint tragedy, especially when you experience situations of continuous anguish, while it is much more difficult to tell stories, fairy tales and magic with the colors of life; This also gives rise to the choice of fat or voluminous models. Fat evokes and represents happiness while thinness represents sadness, the drama and the pain. Fernando Botero is an artist who remains faithful to tradition in the use of technique, of the colors and also of the choice of the theme such as celebrating and enhancing the colors of its magical-fantastic Christmas region.

Regarding the words expressed by Fernando Botero in Parma In the 2013, Vittorio Sgarbi reiterated that these were the reasons why his art had become universal, its simplicity allowed it to reach and welcome any type of audience and to cross any historical period or form of artistic criticism. The universality of the master Fernando Botero has not only transcended the boundaries of specifically artistic or academic environments, but also social ones. The artist himself was aware of this universality demonstrated with his words in one of his interviews, when telling the anecdote of a trip to the Colombian Amazon, being located in the Puerto Nariño region, inside a small, poor house he found a reproduction of one of his works, this thing leaves him enraptured.

With Fernando Botero he dies one of the last greats in the history of twentieth century painting.


the Island of Patmos, 27 September 2023



[1] The last known donation is more than that 700 works to the museums and squares that beautify Colombia. Throughout his life Fernando Botero sponsored scholarships intended for talents who could continue their studies both within Colombia and abroad in the areas of music, the plastic arts, letters and literature. Ana Maria Escallón, author of the book Botero: new works on canvas and who participated in supporting one of the largest donations that became part of the national heritage, explains this donation as a total act of charity by the artist, who didn't want to keep anything with him and for this reason had donated everything he had with the aim of giving Colombia an international outlook on art (see WHO).

[2] His bond with Italy which he loved so much that he considered it his second home, and as I wrote above, a suitable place to share periods full of intimate and affectionate encounters with his children and grandchildren was achieved with the donation of the work to the Municipality of Pietrasanta The warrior, bronze nude of over four meters located in Piazza Matteotti from 1992 (see WHO).

[3] «I am someone who protests against modern painting, but in any case I use what is hidden or behind it: the ironic game and what it means is now recognized by everyone. I paint figurative and realist, but with a strict sense of fidelity to nature; I will never give a brush stroke that is not a description of something real: a mouth, of the hills, a tree. But what I describe is the reality found by me. It could be formulated this way: I make a realist description of an unrealistic reality" (see WHO).

[4] L'argentina Maria Traba (1930-1983) Writer, art critic and important figure of the avant-garde of the seventies, she was a decisive scholar in the recognition and credibility of Colombian and South American artists of the last century. The theoretical work carried out on the works of Fernando Botero was the first artistic critical examination that supported the artist's work so as to act as a calling card for presenting himself at national and international exhibitions. The intellectual described Fernando Botero's art as a "Renaissance of stone" for his conception of the block of forms: «they pushed Botero towards monsters that represented a challenge to beauty and logic, consequently the opinion of the public which requires these two "theological" virtues of art (logic and beauty) however insignificant the figures may be in certain cases (are needed by the public) to give approval to an artist and his art, but the art that challenges if it is true can strike to the point of horror but will never go unnoticed. No one can fail to recognize the scandal caused by the enormous figures as well as the perplexity aroused by the incongruent actions that the monstrous figures carried out surrounded by an innocent gigantism in a suspicious immobility or a congregational dynamism leading Botero's art to impose itself in the cultural environment » (see WHO) [free translation by the author of this article with the updated critical opinion of the art critics who in 1961 he formulated this judgment only on the artist's pictorial works, ignoring all the subsequent sculpture work that had not yet been undertaken by the master]

[5] On several occasions when they asked the Maestro the reason for the very high price of his works, he himself explained that he had always wanted to do something local and specific but with honesty and this, not only did he generate empathy from the general public but also from collectors or art lovers who in the end paid generously above all for his honesty.

[6] For the anthropologist Maria Fernanda Escallón, Fernando Botero's plastic art began to be realized from 1975 when he took up residence in Pietrasanta where he made the transition from painting to sculpture. Just as if the entire universe of monumental figures developed in the paintings found an echo in the statuary three-dimensionality fueled by the imaginary richness coming from the painting that gave the ideas, solutions and possibilities. Fernando Botero's sculpture dismantles the pictorial structure to synthesize the form in the unity of the sculpture (see WHO)

[7] The Master's works can be grouped into these groups: religious with Madonnas, holy devils, ecclesiastics, nuns and nuns; that of the great masters in which he revisits the main works of Jan Van Eyck, Masaccio, Paolo Uccello, Andrea Mantegna, Leonardo da Vinci, Lucas Cranach, Albrecht Dürer, Caravaggio, The Grego, Velazquez, etc. ..; that of still and living lifes with animals and especially the voluminous sculptures of recent decades; that of the erotic with nudes and sexual practices, especially brothel scenes; that of politicians, prima donnas and soldiers; and finally those made by people in general or imagined as family members, self-portraits, art sellers and collectors, toreri.



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