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Fernando Botero: 1932—: Artist

Developed Signature Style

Returning to Bogotá in 1955, Botero experienced a career setback when he showed a group of paintings, inspired by his time in Florence, and none sold. Between 1956 to 1958 he spent time in Mexico City and New York City. During this period he started painting larger human figures on his canvas, beginning with a work called Still Life with Mandolin. As he told the Los Angeles Times, "I was drawing a mandolin, and I made the sound hole very small, which made the mandolin look gigantic. I saw that making the details small made the form monumental. So in my figures, the eyes, the mouth are all small and the exterior form is huge." The style would become his trademark, and make him one of the most recognizable artists of the twentieth century.

Botero was feted with his first exhibition outside of Colombia at the Galeria Antonio Souza in Mexico City in 1957, and had another one that same year at the Pan American Union in Washington, D.C. Critics dismissed his work, but many of the paintings sold. In 1961 Botero moved to New York City permanently. He kept a studio in Greenwich Village for the next dozen years, but his work continued to meet with rejection from the critical establishment. "As a quirky, classicising Colombian obsessed with volume, when flatness was the rage, he was cold-shouldered, or worse," noted an Economist article. "One New York critic described his voluptuous nudes as 'fetuses begotten by Mussolini on a peasant woman.'" In 1961 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City acquired his Mona Lisa at 12, which boosted his reputation in the art world immensely.

But when his New York gallery suddenly closed, Botero faced further financial hardship. At the time, he was divorced and the father of three, and the children spent weekends with him. To entertain them cheaply, he took them to cemeteries and to Central Park. "I grew up believing that Tarzan lived in Central Park and that there were piranhas in the park ponds," his son, Juan Carlos, told the Los Angeles Times. In 1965 Botero was included in "The Emergent Decade: Latin American Painting," at the Guggenheim Museum of New York, which also toured several American and Canadian cities. He was honored the following year with his first exhibition in Europe, at the Staatliche Kunsthalle of Baden-Baden, West Germany, which marked another turning point in his career. With increasing financial success, Botero began dividing his time between a house on Long Island, a summer place in Colombia, and Paris. Tragedy struck, however, when his young son from a second marriage died in a 1974 automobile accident. Botero himself was injured in the crash, losing a finger and some movement in his right arm. He commemorated the boy, Pedro, in several later paintings.

Botero's art evolved into a starkly recognizable style. Large men and women dominate his canvases, which are painted with a distinct flatness that emphasizes color and form. Nostalgic scenes from the everyday Colombian life are a favorite topic, but he has also become known for his still lifes. Medellín's tile rooftops, slatternly maids, pompous military officers, and complacently bourgeois families—with equally distended household pets—have been some of Botero's favorite subjects. In an interview with the Americas, Botero commented on this flatness found in his work, and believed it was a "a reflection of the art that I was exposed to as a child; it was the art you find in churches. It was the ritual of daily mass that I lived until I was twelve years old, and that was the way, I think, that I got the idea that smooth surface is linked to beauty in art."

Botero began exploring three-dimensional round forms in 1975, when he could afford to start casting in bronze. He gained further artistic tribute with a 1979 retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. In 1992 Botero's The House of the Arias Twins set a record for the second-highest auction price paid for the work of a living Latin American artist. In the early 1990s he gained a great deal of public exposure when a series of large sculptures appeared in temporary installations on some of the world's most famous streets. His fanciful bulls and reclining women amused passersby on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Manhattan's Park Avenue, and Chicago's Michigan Avenue.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Shennen Bersani (1961-) Biography - Personal to Mark Burgess Biography - PersonalFernando Botero: 1932—: Artist Biography - Trained As Bullfighter, Developed Signature Style, Botero And The Medellín Cartel, Donated Paintings To Colombia