Fernando Botero's self-identification as a man and artist from and of Colombia is the most outstanding characteristic of his art, the boterismo.
When we stand in front of a painting of any museum, exhibition hall or other place, sometimes we can clearly identify the style of a particular artist, like that of Fernando Botero. Few artists have been able to achieve their own unique unmistakable style: Van Gogh, Modigliani, or Picasso to name a few. One other artist of international fame comes to mind: Fernando Botero, the protagonist of this article. Botero is likely one of the most well-known Colombian artists in the world, alongside his compatriot Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Fernando Botero was born in 1932 in Medellin, Colombia, where he started studying at six years old and later entered into high school. In 1944 he took bullfighting classes with his uncle at La Macarena, the Medellin bullfighting ring. After a close call with a bull, Fernando decided to give up bullfighting and focus on what most interested him as a child: painting. It was around this time that he painted a watercolor of a bullfighter, probably his debut work.
In 1948, Fernando Botero exhibited his work for the first time in his hometown. During this period of his life he worked doing illustrations for El Colombiano, a local newspaper, to pay for his studies. His school, El Colegio Bolivariana, subsequently expelled Botero because they considered his drawings to be obscene; forcing the artist to finish his education at another high school.
In 1951, Botero moved to Bogota where he became acquainted with some prominent Colombian intellectuals. In the 9th National Convention of Colombian artists, Botero won second prize for his work “Frente al mar” (In Front of the Sea). With the money he earned from the award and other paintings he sold, Fernando Botero headed to Europe, more specifically to Spain, to study at the Academia de Arte de San Fernando art school in Madrid. During these young student years, Fernando Botero made a living selling paintings and drawings around the neighborhood of the famous Prado Museum.
Fernando Botero traveled to Florence in 1953 alongside his friend, Ricardo Irragorri. Here he studied at the Academy of San Marcos, soaking in Italian Renaissance that particularly interested him, especially Pierodella Francesca and Tiziano. After his time in Italy, Botero returned to Colombia where, in 1955, he held an unsuccessful exhibition in Bogota. The failure was due to the fact that at the time, the country’s art was heavily influenced by the French. A year later the Colombian artist married for the first time and traveled with his wife to the U.S. and Mexico. It was there that he started experimenting with different body volumes in his paintings (one of his most renowned characteristics) and that he would achieve great success with his first exhibition in New York.
The New York exhibition seemed to act as a catalyst for Fernando Botero’s career. In 1958 he was named professor of Fine Arts at the National Colombian University and again won second place at the National Convention of Colombian Artists. This began a series of successes that would take Fernando Botero back to Washington, where he sold all of his paintings on the opening day of the art gallery. He later moved to New York where he was able to sell his painting “La Mona Lisa a los doce años” (Mona Lisa at Age 12) to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) of New York, a sale that meant economic stability and prestige.
As of 1975 the famous Colombian painter began to work with sculptures and the Antioquia Museum of Colombian art dedicated a hall to him. Botero’s works were displayed all over the world with great success. Finally in 1983, Fernando moved with his third wife to Pietrasanta, Italy. The town was well known for its foundry businesses, essential to Botero’s work as a sculptor. Botero’s sculptures and statues have been seen throughout some of the most famous avenues and plazas worldwide, making him an extremely popular and recognized artist.
In more recent years Fernando Botero has dedicated himself to trying new techniques and touching on new themes, especially within his paintings. For example, he focused on showing the world hot topics of the political and social reality in his native Colombia. Also, with a series of 78 paintings known as “Abu Gharib”, Botero denounced the abuse of prisoners in Iraq during the war.