The artist’s subjects are enormous.
He is fond of fleshy souls and depicts them in all their immensity.
Born in Columbia in 1932, Fernando Botero
took the figures of his boyhood and his imagination,
and inflated them, endowing his dancers, husbands,
bullfighters and lovers with comic and mythic proportion.
The images are widely beloved. Botero’s art hangs in museums
around the world. He is incredibly famous. He is incredible wealthy.
He has made thousands of paintings, each one worth
more than most make in a lifetime.
“I like to paint pleasant things…All of my life, by conviction,
I did subjects that were rather pleasant.”
As a young artist, Botero left Columbia for New York.
In the 13 years he lived there, he painted only his private Columbia.
He moved to Paris and resided there for more than 30 years.
But Paris was never his subject. Only the quaint, charming
figures from his mythic Columbia made the canvas.
All this time, the real Columbia was mired in disaster.
There were massacres, kidnappings and torture.
Guerillas, paramilitary groups, government forces and
vicious drug cartels vied for control. Life was cheap.
200,000 Columbians were murdered while Botero painted.
But decade after decade, the popular artist portrayed only a sweet,
whimsical world of perpetual innocence.
Then something happened.
We do not know what.
All we know is that as he approached his 70th year,
the artist began painting things most unpleasant.
He had heard and read the news reports.
He had imagined the countless horrors of his homeland.
Now he took paint to canvas.
The fat images were no longer funny.
The world famous artist did not sell these paintings.
He gave them to the people of Columbia,
donating the work to the National Museum of Columbia.
Botero seemed to be changing.
When he read of the crimes at Abu Ghraib,
he said he felt he must do something.
So he began to draw. He began to paint.
His prisoners carry the voluminous corpulence that is his trademark,
but now they wear their flesh as a kind of stark testament
to their tortures. The images are emphatic, insistent.
“I wanted to recreate the atmosphere in the prison with scenes
that were not scenes in the photos, to make some idea of the feeling,
so that I could communicate some idea of the horrors that were going on…
In painting there is this concentration of emotion through time,
leaving out everything that doesn’t concern the subject,
and this makes the images in painting have special meaning….
Art has the capacity to make us remember a situation for a long time.”
The artist who found fame and fortune creating
amusing figures from a quaint land of the past
now turns to our world and our time,
and says terrible and unjust events must not go forgotten.
“It has to be remembered….I could not stay silent. The power of art
is to make you remember something. I hope that will happen with my work.”