Venice

Summer 2015

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THE SKINNY ON FERNANDO BOTERO Fort Lauderdale welcomes its first Fernando Botero sculpture for public display. BY REED V. HORTH PORTRAIT BY FELIPE CUEVAS 96 Venice round the year 1300, Pope Boniface VII sent emissaries throughout Italy in search of the greatest artist in the land to paint prominent walls in St. Peter's Basilica. For his submission, artist Giotto di Bondone drew a perfect circle freehand in red paint with no compass or other instrument. While the emissary scoffed, Pope Boniface VII "instantly perceived that Giotto surpassed all other painters of his time," writes biographer Giorgio Vasari. What Giotto had created in his simple, audacious line, was volume, form and style. Where some only saw simplicity, others recognized the hand of a master. More than 700 years later, Colombian painter Fernando Botero is similarly dismissing critics and embracing the learned with bold lines, copious volume and unmistakable style. One such example, La Maternidad, graces the poolside of Fort Lauderdale's Auberge Beach Residences, placed by visionary developer Jorge Perez, who has known and collected the artist's work for decades. Naively and crudely called "fatness," with the same callousness shown to the works of Peter Paul Rubens, Botero's work is instead an "exaltation of volume," states his son, Juan Carlos, who recently penned the definitive tome, "The Art of Fernando Botero." Spanning the totality of Botero's life, career, themes and influences, the book is both a discovery of the master and an exploration of the relationship a son perceives about his father's place in history. Furthermore, Juan Carlos takes a deeper look into a world that is not about what is seen on the surface, but what can be discovered when one takes the time to really observe. "Botero is not joking when he says he has never painted a fat person in his life," Juan Carlos says with reverence for his father. In order to have fatness, "there would also have to be thin ones in order to establish a contrast." His uniqueness, or "Boterismo," sets him apart from others, yet places him firmly among the greatest artists in history. Botero's men are robust and powerful, sturdily perched on legs thick as tree trunks. His women, whose demure mouths and petite hands connect to bodies ripened with girth and softness, are sensual and unapologetic. Botero's subjects are whimsical yet also possess a seriousness and singularity of purpose in each work. Born in Medellin, Colombia, in 1932, Botero was heavily influenced by the architecture of the Baroque-style colonial churches in his hometown. Showing an early proclivity toward the arts, his education allowed him to travel to Bogotá, Madrid, Paris and Florence, studying the works of renowned artists, most notably Italian Renaissance painters Piero della Francesca and Masaccio. Whereas many Latin American artists opt for pure abstraction and simplified painting methods, Botero amalgamates Italian high-Renaissance paint-layering techniques with quintessentially Colombian subject matter, including bullfights, circuses, nudes, religion and still life, into paintings whose frozen colors produce pleasure, sensuality and grandeur. Despite having lived in Europe since 1953, the boldness of color and monumentality of volume in every work binds him to his Latin bloodlines. "I have never done a brushstroke that was not authorized by the history of art," Botero has said. Botero's deft blending of European and Latin American influences has allowed him to transcend the once homogeneous Latin American art scene into the greater expanse of contemporary art. His work is no longer relegated to Colombian expatriates and descendants of Latino families, but instead is collected and exhibited alongside 19th- and 20th-century and modern European masters. With exhibitions on five continents and in more than 20 cities, including those on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, Park Avenue in New York, the Grand Canal in Venice and Paseo de Recoletos in Madrid, and paintings that sell for millions of dollars, Botero is internationally recognized as one of the 10 most successful living artists in the world. In defense of his father, Juan Carlos points out that international acclaim has not diminished his father's reverence for his Colombian past or his compulsion to give back to the societies that nourished him. Donating nearly 700 paintings and sculptures to museums in Europe, the United States and his native Colombia, Botero has quietly inspired a new generation of talent to embrace history and create their own style through hard work and insistence on quality. Even at 83 years old, Botero tirelessly paints seven days a week, eight hours a day, standing at his easel in his Parisian or Italian studio with no assistants or attendants. Juan Carlos notes that his father's boundless energy is sapped only when he steps away from his studio and his hands lay idle. Utilizing pencil, pen and ink, oil, charcoal, chalk and sanguine, Botero instead continually pushes the limits of style while adhering to its basic precepts. Indeed, Botero's quality and unique style require continual contemplation and absorption from himself, his family and his audience. Once artifice is seen past, his work continues to surprise us. As Juan Carlos says, his father truly has "surpassed all other artists of his time." v A

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