Born in 1932, Fernando Botero is the most renowned artist of South America and a cultural icon in his native Colombia. A range of his sculptures, paintings, and drawings is now on display in Istanbul for the first time, brought from a private collection in Switzerland. Called Everyday's Poetry – Scenes from the Fullness of Life, the exhibition continues at Anna Laudel Contemporary until June 25.
Although Botero is a figurative artist, his realism is filtered through an idiosyncratic lens. The salient characteristic of his work is the “large people”, a term that Botero has used to describe the stocky men and voluptuous women that fill his canvases. Whether nudes, musicians, circus performers, presidents, couples, or gangsters, all of Botero’s figures have similar forms. The artist never used live models, preferring to represent the figures that inhabited his mind.
Noting Botero’s predecessors, exhibition curator Dr. Klaus Wolbert told The Guide Istanbul, “He was influenced by modern artists such as Picasso, but also artists in the past [such as] Pierro della Francesca and Giotto in Italy. He knows the history of European art very well.” In his hometown of Medellin, Botero took inspiration from the colonial baroque styles of the local churches and monasteries. Later he discovered Mexican painters such as Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, as well as Dali and the Surrealists. He also had the chance to study the Renaissance masters at museums in Madrid and Florence while traveling in Europe.
The exact reasons for Botero’s choice of large figures is unclear even to the artist himself, who says that he is simply drawn to them on a creative or subconscious level. Unlike many contemporary artists, Botero has remained faithful to that primal image throughout the decades. “Botero’s style is very independent of other movements in contemporary art. He’s very original. … His style didn’t change. From the beginning in the ‘50s, it has always been in the same manner,” Wolbert says.
Despite living in Europe and North America for many years, Botero defines his art as resolutely Colombian, sticking to Colombian figures and themes in the majority of his work. His social conscience became apparent in a series of paintings on the drug cartels in Colombia, and in another series on the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
In the current exhibition, one painting in particular shows Botero’s Surrealist and satirical streak. Titled The President, the piece depicts an unnamed but presumably Colombian president sitting with a songbird perched on his finger. This strange juxtaposition of power and frivolity, while the president turns away from the bird with a disdainful look, opens the painting to political commentary. These ironic touches are typical of Botero, whose great love for Colombia is always tempered with humor.