Did you ever think what would happen if Mona Lisa would have a few cheat days and gain 60 kilograms? Basing his works on the words “Volume is beautiful”, 21st century modern artist Fernando Botero Angula is among the firsts in that regard. We don’t know whether Mona Lisa would be offended if she were to be painted in that way, but we can be sure that Botero approaches today’s standards of beauty and aesthetic from a different angle. How about taking a look at the life of this expressionist artist, filled with humour and irony?
Botero was born in Colombia back in 1932. He is the second child of three of a horseback salesman father and a tailor mother. With his own words, he is the most Colombian of Colombians and his works greatly reflect that Latin American culture. His father passed away while he was four and after a childhood in poverty, his uncle sent him to a matador school at age twelve. Their economic problems would end if he would manage to become a matador after all. Although he shares that dream, Botero realizes that he did not possess the bravery of a matador when we encountered his first bull and quits after two years. Although his childhood was not filled with art, he was quite impressed by the baroque style of Medellín, the city he lived in. When he was 16, his first illustrations were published in the Sunday edition of an important local newspaper, El Colombiano. When he was 20, he left behind his mother and country and journeyed towards Barcelona. After that, he went to Madrid and Paris and finally to Florence. During these travels in Europe, he also had the chance to closely examine the works of Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Leonardo, Mantegna, Velázquez, Goya, Dürer, Rubens, Manet and Cézanne, all master artists that became important reference points for himself. Botero manages to transfer the spirit of the works of these masters with his own style just as he did with Mona Lisa.
When one thinks about Botero, plump people with curvy lines come to mind immediately. In his works, people or animals are not alone to get that treatment as other objects and fruits are also drawn quite voluminously. Some might accuse Botero of using “fat” people but he answers those accusation with the following words: “I don't paint fat people. What I paint are volumes. When I paint a woman, a man, a dog or a horse I act with the idea of volume.” He also depicts fat people in uncommon instances, such as a ballerina or a tightrope walker. Voluminous and simple lines with lively colours are the common thread of Botero’s works. He wants to break the cubic structure in painting by adding clarity and dimension. Mostly, he succeeds by adding a door or a mirror to the painting. He says, “When I paint an apple or an orange, I know that people will notice that this apple or orange are my work. Because what I try to do is to give a personality that stems from a deep conviction to every painted component, even if it is the most plain one.”
In 2005, he painted a series of works on the US soldiers’ inhuman treatment of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq War. Displayed in two different locations in the United States, this exhibit drew great interest.
Although he has been living in Paris for the last 30 years, Botero is greatly inspired from circuses in Mexico which he visits in winter months. This is reflected on his works as well. Stating that circus is a “very beautiful and timeless subject”, Botero presents every aspect of the life in a circus. He offers a series of lovely portraits showing riders, acrobats, lion and tiger tamers, clowns walking with long legs, elephants, horses and camels.