In the 1970s, Botero began to work on his bronze sculptures that rendered both human and animal figures into monumental beings. Perhaps most noteworthy in this work that memorializes a tender moment, is the way that the figures gaze at one another. As a supersized Adam and Eve, the figures endlessly replay the intimate gesture that signifies the moment before another act. Although the title denotes that we are privileged to see the moment before they begin their dance, it is also possible that this could be the moment before an embrace, the prelude to a kiss, or other acts of intimacy.
Like his other monumental bronze works, The Dancers are a powerful duo. Their corpulent bodies match one another in scale. Unlike the artist's paintings of couples, particularly dancers, where one partner is considerably smaller than the other, these majestic figures have nearly the same stature, underscoring the importance of both halves of this relationship.
In discussing the artistic influences from his life in Colombia, the artist has cited:
I have seen colonial churches since I was very small, colonial painting and polychrome sculpture. And that was all I saw. There was not a single modern painting in any museum, not a Picasso, not a Braque, not a Chagall. The museum had Colombian painters from the eighteen century and, of course, I saw pre-Columbian art. That was my exposure.
It was during the artist's tenure in Mexico that he began to conceive of his inflated figures, but it was not until his move to Paris that he began to create sculpture. Between 1975 and 1977, his Parisian studio was transformed to allow for the creation of large-scale three-dimensional works. Although he had sketched works from plaster casts at the Prado and had studied sculpture briefly at the Accademia San Marco, he had only made two small sculptures from acrylic paste prior to this period. The prohibitive costs of casting works at a foundry had prevented the artist from working with sculpture prior to his successes in Europe. Though the subject matter of the sculptures is often seen in the paintings, the artist insists that all his sculptures begin from a fresh sketch: "The point of departure for a work is always the sketch. Ninety percent of the time the solution to a painting is in the sketch. In a sculpture, it's the same thing, but the sketch is more complex."
In combining influences, including those from the pre-Columbian and colonial periods, Botero has also created figures cast from resin that are reminiscent of eighteenth century polychrome religious sculptures. The luscious surfaces of the historic polychrome figures, their endless folds of fabric, and their heroic figures mark the Baroque qualities of Botero's colorful figures. In working with bronze, the artist added complexities to his works of the 1970s by exploring the patina.
The simplicity and dimensions of The Dancers and many of his other bronze figures can be linked to pre-Columbian works from the Nario group or from the Western Mexican tradition of the Nayarit, in which broad torsos or flared hips and thighs are common features. Examples of paired figures from the Nayarit region include male and female sets, and the figures are sometimes linked or even conjoined. Botero modernizes this historic coupling, and that of Brancusi's The Kiss (1916), by giving the couple an opportunity to gaze directly at one another while maintaining the tension of the frozen moment in which the space between their figures is as important as their intimacy.
Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, Associate Curator, El Museo del Barrio, New York
1) Fernando Botero, [ex. cat; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden] (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979): 11.
2) Ibid, p. 17.