One of the most intriguing artists of the 21st century, Fernando Botero met Turkish art lovers for the first time at the Pera Museum, where a selection of 64 paintings was exhibited. Botero has brought a new interpretation of the aesthetics of our time, and the exhibition depicted this interpretation in six sections - the circus, the bullfight, Latin American people, Latin American life, still lifes and versions from past masters of history of art. The works of the Colombian artist contain many references to his own culture and life, and in a unique style they question the concept of beauty in our century.
This exhibition was achieved with the support of the Honorary Consulate of Colombia, The Spanish Embassy and Instituto Cervantes, Istanbul.
By the end of the 1960s, for Botero, still life paintings were regularly nourishing the seduction of an image that went beyond the simple composition of fruits or objects arranged on a table, often revealing a fully-fledged world. The claustrophobic sense of the ""scenic cube"" is often overcome by the inclusion, within the painting, of a reflecting mirror, or an opening that allows the gaze to look outwards. Botero utilizes the reflections of the objects and the presence of a door in the background to lighten the architecture of the painting and to give it depth, creating structural balances. ""When I paint an apple or an orange, I know that it will be possible to recognize them as mine and that it is I who painted them, because I seek to give to every painted element, even the simplest, a personality that comes from a profound conviction."" Thus, for Botero the overriding issue is to confer an authentic image even to inanimate objects, to still lifes.
One of the elements that best characterize Botero's paintings is his ability to combine his original Latin-American culture, as nourished by the penchant for the hyperbolic and the fantastic, with the European one in an outstanding manner. Europe is obviously referred to the masters like Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Leonardo, Mantegna, Velázquez, Goya, Dürer, Rubens, Manet and Cézanne who were the key reference points during his travels in Italy and Spain, in the early 1950s.á
The history of art is a broad, almost endless repertoire of images to be ransacked for it vocabulary, but not imitated. Botero does not imitate: he recreates their spirit after many centuries by presenting them in contemporary terms and by aligning them to his original idea in terms of volume, space, sign and colour.
""I dared painting the corrida (bullfight) because I was very much familiar with the theme. It is impossible to paint if there doesn't exist a strong relation between the subject and one's soul. This relationship is absolutely necessary inasmuch as it gives you a sort of moral authority. That authority I had for the theme, flowed out from the sangre (‘blood') and from my own life.""
The bullfight was a theme that couldn't be neglected in Botero's work - a fascinating and highly suggestive theme that is deeply engrained in the tradition of his people.
Obviously, what truly mattered for Botero is not only the combat between man and bull but all that takes place around this laic ritual: from the ‘taking of the habit' on the part of the protagonists celebrated in the splendid elegance of their costumes and seen as modern-day heroes, to the entry on horseback of the matadors and picadors into the arena with the crowd that throngs the stands applauding their idols - everything seems to be part of an extraordinary popular pageant where the violence that is inherent in the bullfight itself appears to be alien or experienced in a natural way. Botero identifies himself with the theme to such an extent as to immortalize himself as a torero in the Self Portrait.
Botero fell in love with the circus in Mexico, where he often spent the winter months. It was there that he became enthralled by the characters that crowd the circus, loving the colours, the movement, the life and the stories that are the backbone of the circus show - a show both archaic and new that has been immortalized by artists of the calibre of Picasso, Léger, Chagall and many more.
""A truly beautiful and timeless subject,"" Botero has often said. He illustrates circus life to its fullest: from the equestrienne intent on her show to the acrobat-cum-contortionist, from the lion and tiger tamer to the clowns on their highly improbable stilts, from the elephant to the horses and camels... Botero offers us a gleefully-coloured and kaleidoscopic universe.
His images apparently amusing, funny and ironic reveal - for all those who are willing to go beyond a first cursory glance - meaning, and his circus suddenly becomes the great metaphor of life.
Latin American Life
In the works focusing on this subject matter, Botero insists on the vitality of man that cannot be extinguished even in the direst conditions of misery, in shantytowns, in places where life has no apparent reason... In Botero's paintings there is a ""people's"" background, a loyalty to his own Latin-American culture, a vivid memory of his childhood fancy.
No matter how much his style has been perfected and enriched through the contact with Europe, the characters of civic and private drama, the daily grind, the whorehouses, the dancing fetes, the priests and cardinals are and continue to be tenaciously present in his work. While painted in the pink confetto atmosphere, life passes against a backdrop of sexual intercourse, music and cigarettes; it emphasizes a way to stress the inner solitude of the individual.
Latin American People
""You can find in my painting a world I got to know during my youth. It is a sort of nostalgia, which I have turned into the central theme of my work. [...] I lived fifteen years in New York and a long time in Europe, but this has changed nothing in my Latin American approach, nature and spirit. The communion with my country is total.""
The points of reference for the young Botero were the multicolored boards and sculptures of colonial art, the direct and essential language of popular art and, with regards to the pureness of form, pre-Colombian art. These elements continue to be present in his paintings. They are the traits of a poetics that has been refined over the years but which contains a cultural heritage that continues to be as spontaneous as ever and generated with the same narrative force.