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Death of Fernando Botero, artist who laughed at volumes

The Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero, known throughout the world for his voluptuous characters, has died, Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced on Friday.

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Death of Fernando Botero, artist who laughed at volumes

The Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero, known throughout the world for his voluptuous characters, has died, Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced on Friday. “Fernando Botero, the painter of our traditions and our faults, the painter of our virtues, is dead,” he announced on social networks. The painter of our violence and our peace. Of the dove rejected a thousand times and placed on its throne a thousand times.” He gave no further details on the location of his death.

Botero, shorter, more unifying than Fernando Botero. See Luis Fernando Botero Angulo, born April 19, 1932 in Medellin, in the central mountain range of the Colombian Andes. Botero, it is the volume that takes hold of the subject. Velázquez's Menina which is gaining cheeks, Christ on the Cross which is no longer emaciated, the Mona Lisa which overflows from the landscape, the pre-Columbian statue which becomes fleshy like a European baby, the cat as big as an elephant.

Also read: A bronze by Fernando Botero, estimated at 425,000 euros, stolen in Paris

We immediately recognize a Botero. It is hung everywhere among Colombian collectors, who however prefer the Boteros of the 1960s and 1970s. And even those of his compatriots who do not share his “type of art”, intensely popular from Madrid to Bilbao, from Tokyo to Athens, respect “ its unique language, very in tune with history and society.” Botero is the “most Colombian of Colombian artists”, as he himself said with a touch of irony, he who was “very attached to his hometown, who was aware of everything that was happening in Colombia,” confirms a close family member. Sophia Vari, the Greek artist with a Hungarian mother who was his third and last wife, died on May 5, 2023 in Monaco.

With an estimated turnover of $25 million, the Arprice site ranked it in 79th position for 2022, thanks primarily to its first market, America. Commercial success has sometimes overshadowed his quality as an artist. He often responded with the distance of the teacher towards the overly critical student. “I don’t paint fat women,” he explained on June 2, 2016 at the TEDx Beijing Salon. Behind him, Woman in Front of a Window and Mona Lisa seemed to say the opposite. “I don't comment on women's looks. As indeed Giacometti does not comment on the same five people he sculpted throughout his life. This is about faith, about the virtues that art should have. I paint men, animals, landscapes, with the sole concern of giving sensuality to the form, while reality is quite dry. An artist must be a sensual man capable of transmitting that quality which makes reality more seductive. If we see a painting painted by Picasso, Derain or Cézanne, it's the same orange, but we can see who painted it. How we recognize an orange from Velázquez or Giotto. An orange is a very simple round shape. If you manage to get people to say that this orange is painted by you or by Botero (Orange, 1977, with a little worm in its fleshy side, Editor's note), it's because you have something to say that is personal . Imprinting your personality in a simple form is difficult. »

Fernando Botero did not have an easy path to art. At 4 years old, he lost his father, a commercial agent who earned his living by traveling on horseback in the Medellin region; he was raised with his two brothers by his mother and uncles. He is on scholarship at the Jesuit Bolivar College, hence perhaps his art of response and diversion. One of his uncles enrolled him in the bullfighting school, from where he retained a visceral fear of bulls and an artistic passion for bullfighting.

In 1948, he was only 16 years old when his first drawings were published in the Sunday supplement of El Colombiano, one of the most important newspapers in Medellin. Bold and curious, he was blamed, then expelled from his college for wanting to publish a nude drawing and writing an article on Picasso and non-conformism in art. He left for Bogota, where, nourished by the writers of magical realism, he exhibited and sold his first paintings in 1951. His debut in Europe, in 1952, marked his attention to the old masters of the Prado, the Louvre, the Uffizi, in Florence. This experience determines his vocation.

“You have to choose in which direction to look, with conviction and radicality. As if we were at a banquet and had to choose our preferences. Your personality depends on your selection. When I arrived in Italy, there was Botticelli for Gothic art or Masaccio and Giotto for volume, Titian for colors. We discover who we are in this way,” he explained in Beijing in 2016. The American Bernard Berenson, the great specialist in the Italian Renaissance, advocated volume and classified artists according to their ability to render volume. and sensuality. He was quite sectarian. So he put Giotto, Masaccio, Michelangelo at the top. He was right, because the great, truly spectacular revolution was when artists succeeded in translating space and volume onto a flat surface, unlike the painters of the Middle Ages. Tradition is the respect you show for great things, great artists, great techniques, great subjects that give you a higher idea of ​​what you should be. The connection, the information you get from the past is the biggest factory that feeds your imagination, your mind. » His After Piero Della Francesca is an example of grotesque proportions.

His return to Bogota in 1955 was difficult, he did not convince the public of art, and had to sell tires to survive. He would have to wait until 1957, with the innovative painting Still Life with a Mandolin, for his idea of ​​expanding shapes and exaggerating volumes to take shape and gradually open up the path to success for him. It will come from the United States. In 1961, Dorothy Miller, director of MoMA in New York, purchased the painting Mona Lisa, at the age of twelve, which Fernando painted in 1959 and which is a parody of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. “Paradoxically, Botero above all represents childhood for me, because he was one of the most easily identifiable artists for a child, with his curves and his colors, therefore one of the first that our parents showed us in museums”, tells us the young Brazilian art historian Carolina Cataldi Pedrosa, art advisor and chef based in Paris, founder of Caro Experiences (art and gastronomy). “The similarities with the curves of comic book characters of the time, such as Turma da Monica, also surely have something to do with it. It was only much later that I realized the political aspect of his work. He has exhibited numerous times in Brazil. During the biennials in 1959 and 1985, but also during major retrospectives. In 1998, he did a big one at the Masp (Museu de Arte de São Paulo) with 62 works, which broke all the records of the time in terms of ticket sales: more than 120,000 visitors, a record beaten only by Dali. »

From 1967, Botero traveled regularly between Colombia, New York and Europe. He visited Italy and Germany, where he studied the work of the German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer. Each ancient master (Poussin, Velazquez, Rubens) or harbinger of the modern era (Manet) inspires him. Without hindering the iconoclast that he is. “I immersed myself in the history of art, I traveled to Italy, I was interested in Italian painting of the Quattrocento and Trecento, Giotto, Masaccio, Piero Della Francesca, Paolo Uccello and so many others artists. My work is inspired by many things, Etruscan art, pre-Columbian art, popular arts. It's a mix. I have a big cocktail going on in my head. The mind of an artist. Afterwards, when the public sees my work, only one name comes to mind: Botero. No need to think. It is a work that belongs to me. And yet, if you look, you find a thousand influences,” he explained to Alberto de Filippis on July 25, 2015, for Euronews. “ I started doing figurative painting at a time when everyone was painting abstract things. Impossible to find a gallery, no one looked at my paintings. It was very difficult, but luckily I held on to my beliefs. I had the success we know because I stayed true to my ideas. »

Roundness does not exclude the acuity of the point. In 1974, his third son, Pedro, 4 years old, died in a road accident in Spain. He creates a painting, Pedro on horseback, where all the sadness of the world can be read in the horse's eyes. “This is perhaps the most important painting of my entire life. This is the first canvas I painted after this terrible accident. I put in everything my heart and soul expressed,” he replied soberly.

Gravity is latent in his colorful world. “During the domination of the cartels in Colombia, in the 1980s and 1990s, the figure of Botero stood out as almost the only positive image that the country projected internationally. It was the first time that a local artist had achieved such a level of global recognition. Botero offered Bogota and Medellin two museums of international size, thanks to his very generous donations. He remains an essential figure in the Colombian cultural ecosystem,” analyzes Alex Mor, the Colombian half of the Parisian gallery Mor Charpentier. “I tackled political subjects, a series on violence in Colombia, a series on torture in the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib, I talked about dictators at a time when military juntas were legion in Latin America. I am interested in politics like everyone else, I keep informed about everything that is happening, I am moved by many of the current events. The issue of migration from poor countries to Europe is dramatic today,” Botero confided in 2015.

“ Boterismo has become a true identification of our Latin American peoples,” summarizes the Ecuadorian Maria Elena Rudolf, wife of Lorenzo Rudolf who directed Art Basel and created Art Basel Miami, sociologist and vice-president of Art Stage Singapore for ten years . “His paintings, like his sculptures, take poetic and rich forms to talk about violence, to denounce power, to talk about politics and very real historical facts. I consider Botero to be a master who was capable of sculpting the social, economic reality and even the sociological and moral principles of our conservative Latin American society. The great Colombian artist who, through his inimitable style, allows his spectators to laugh, to cry, to think, to admire, to criticize. Its flourishing rating is a direct translation of this. »

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