Even today, the picturesque Colombian town of Medellín--Fernando Botero's birthplace--remains one of the premier centers of bullfighting in Latin America. Thus, it's not surprising that at the age of twelve Botero's uncle enrolled him in a local school of tauromachy. The future artist took well to his training and although his true talents and vocation lay elsewhere, there is no doubt that his apprenticeship as a matador had a profound impact on his life while serving as a source of inspiration for innumerable works spanning from his earliest drawings to his nearly exclusive dedication to this subject matter in the 1980s.
Indeed, the baroque splendor, the fearless protagonists of the corridas, and the human struggle and ritual enacted in the bullring have all become critical leitmotifs in Botero's oeuvre. It is perhaps here, more than with any other subject, that the artist succeeds in conveying a specific Latin American sensibility, while simultaneously embracing its universal import. Likewise the quasi-surreal and mythical spectacle of the bullfight seems like an appropriate subject for an artist who has devoted his career to depicting a reality so extraordinary that it transcends the very limits of the probable and spills into the realm of the fantastical.
Executed in 1985, Family Scene is inspired by Botero's fascination with the artistry and sport of tauromachy. An avid student of visual culture and the history of representation, Botero's interest in the subject, although clearly linked to his personal memories, may also be seen within the context of the history of art and its repertoire of imagery spanning from pre-Hellenic times to the work of Francisco Goya, Édouard Manet, and Pablo Picasso. But as is typical in Botero's oeuvre, these antecedents are merely a point of departure from which to reinvent and refashion a new lexicon of meaning and representational conventions. Accordingly in the Family Scene, Botero removes the ritual from its traditional context--the arena of competition--and places the familiar cast of characters--toreros, picadores, banderilleros, monosabios, and the rest of their extended clan in a domestic setting. In the process, Botero succeeds in providing the viewer with a fresh and thought-provoking approach to this perennial subject. Moreover in the process Botero humanizes the valiant heroes while reminding us of the precarious nature of life. Indeed the familial group portrait, the woman's gentle placement of her hand on her husband's or lover's shoulder, the sitters' firm and stoic glances, the ornate, formal costumes, the strewn banderillas, the torero's grip of his lance, the child bullfighter in waiting barely walking but already following in his father's footsteps, and the taxidermy bull's head all serve to codify the scene and reveal the dynamics and interrelationships of the family business while imbuing the protagonists with a sense of immortality and reverence. Indeed by relocating the characters from the bullring to the bullfighter's home, Botero effectively shifts the discourse from one centered on the pageantry and mythic struggle inherent in this timeless ritual to a highly emotive narrative that is at once deeply personal and intimate, yet infinitely more universal in its revelation of the depth of familial bonds and the fleeing nature of life.
Marysol Nieves, Independent Curator.