Few artists created such an immediately recognisable style as Fernando Botero — Colombia’s most celebrated painter and sculptor. His hyper-inflated figures, semi-satirical Old Master pastiches and cast of bullfighters, bishops, guerrillas and gangsters form one of the most unique bodies of work in 20th and 21st-century art. Botero’s art is a compelling, often humorous exploration of power, politics and art in contemporary Latin America.
Born in 1932 in Medellín, Colombia, Botero had his first show in Bogotá aged 19. In his early 20s he studied in Florence and Madrid, where he was enthralled by the works of the high Renaissance and Spanish Baroque. These would continue to inform his practice, from early paintings such as his Velázquez-inspired Girl Lost in a Garden (1959) to After Piero della Francesca (1998). By 1958, Botero was teaching at Bogotá’s Academy of Art.
In the early 1960s, he moved his studio to New York, where his voluptuous ‘Boterismo’ style began to emerge with works such as Mona Lisa, Age Twelve (1961) and Presidential Family (1967). In a period dominated by Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, Botero’s work reinvigorated the figurative tradition, earning him great critical success. During the 1970s, he moved to Paris and began experimenting with sculpture, producing works such as Big Hand (1976–77).
Although Botero maintained that ‘art should be an oasis, a place of refuge from the hardness of life’, his work was at times stridently political. Beginning in the 1990s, he painted a series focusing on Colombia’s drug-related violence. One painting, Death of Pablo Escobar, depicts the Colombian drug baron being gunned down by the police. Later, he produced his Abu Ghraib series, focusing on reports of the torture of Iraqi prisoners.
As a 14-year-old boy, Botero had sold his first drawing for two pesos — a sketch of the bullfighting school where he was himself studying. By the 1980s, Botero’s success was earning him large public commissions. Monumental pieces by the artist can now be enjoyed on the streets of New York, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Jerusalem, Bamberg in Germany and Yerevan in Armenia. Botero Plaza in Medellín is home to 23 of his sculptures.
In 2000, the Botero Museum opened in Bogatá, housing over 100 works by the artist alongside modern and contemporary pieces from his personal collection. Botero died in 2023.