The Colombian Fernando Botero (Medellín, Colombia, 1932) possesses one of the most recognisable styles in Latin American artistic tradition, with accentuated corporeality that allows him to work with proportions that are not the norm. Botero defines his work as figurative art, inflated forms and rotund figures as “divergent expressive forms”.
In his work, Botero encapsulates influences from the great Mexican muralists, particularly José Clemente Orozco and a fascination with Trecento and Quattrocento Italian painting can also be discerned. Every influence can be appreciated in his variation of works by Jan Van Eyck, Alberto Durero, Peter Paul Rubens, Hyacinthe Rigaud, Pierre Bonnard and Paul Cézanne. Equally, the artist also connects with Spanish artistic tradition; Botero studies at the San Fernando Fine Arts Academy in Madrid in 1951, and visits the Museo del Prado, where he copies works by Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya.
His success soon arrives to European shores, and in the Sixties his individual exhibitions are held in cities such as Paris, Baden-Baden, Hannover and London. Moreover, his rejection of contemporary painting distances him from avant-garde movements and means he is absent from the American art scene, where his figurative painting is seen as anachronistic.
Botero's impeccable execution can be appreciated in the fifty large oil paintings on display in this exhibition, the most extensive collection in Spain to date. The selection of works originate from museums and private collections from Spain, Germany, Switzerland and the USA. In addition to the paintings, the exhibition also displays fifty-four drawings and watercolours and ten bronze sculptures, all realised after 1962 and brought together especially for the occasion.
Botero's use of a systematic method enables him to paint with great speed. He is unconcerned with the spontaneity of the forms and the independent brush strokes; his aim is the homogenous working of the surface of colour, with his penchant for preparing the background in reddish tones noticeable. He then draws on top of the thiss base with white chalk, and marks the luminous areas he wants to stress with white acrylic.
The command of dry painting can be appreciated in the colour, meticulously diffused in his pastel works. In his drawings there is a clear personal style that, from the beginning of the Sixties, causes him to react against what is merely sketched and increasingly renounce the interplay with what is unfinished. He often reverts to sanguine, which enables him to turn the dense red into a source of light, while in the charcoal drawings the black gradually dims the light at the back of the sheet or it strengthens it in more determined and open ways.
The broad and salient themes characterise his work: portraits, self-portraits, nude figures, still-lifes, landscapes, brothel scenes, bullfights, saints, soldiers, cardinals... the list goes on; all of which are treated with optimism and freshness.
In Botero's sculptures the concerns and themes of his painting recur, although possibly more experimentally. The rounded and sensual contours remain as the human figure is the focal point. After his first attempts, between 1963-1966, he doesn't work with sculpture until 1973. The years 1976-1977 are considered his most productive as he achieves a total command of the different sculptural techniques and during this period he fully devotes his time to three-dimensional art. An influence from colonial masters from the 18th century, such as Caspicara from Ecuador and Aleijadinho from Brazil, can be discerned along with references to his favourite contemporary artists, for instance Henri Matisse, Henry Moore, Elie Nadelman and Gaston Lachaise.