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Tribute to Fernando Botero



Photo: Artforum-Massimo Sestini/Mondadori/Getty Images

At the age of ninety-one, the Colombian artist Fernando Botero, known for illustrating whimsical, rotund, and voluminous figures, passed away on September 15th, 2023. Botero, born in Colombia in 1932, was from an impoverished family and after his father died when Botero was four years old, grew up with his mother and siblings. Throughout his life, Botero’s mesmerizing artwork attracted acclaim and popularity–some of his pieces have been auctioned for over five million dollars. His signature art style, Boterismo, satirically depicts people and even animals with exaggerated proportions in paintings and sculptures to critique bourgeois lifestyles as well as corrupt and violent governments. 

His wide range of art is exemplified by the contrast of his works. While the painting Dancers at the Bar (2001) modestly portrays a plump, fair-skinned ballerina in a white tutu and pink slippers and hairpiece, the jarring Death of Pablo Escobar (1999) presents an over-the-life size Pablo Escobar, the leader of a Medellín drug cartel, being pierced with bullets. His barefoot body on a rooftop is in the midst of dynamically falling from bullets beneath a solemn gray sky. Botero’s painting pointedly comments on Colombia’s violent environment. Furthermore, Botero shocked audiences–deviating from his classic whimsical artwork–when he painted a collection of sixty paintings depicting the ghastly torture of Iraqui prisoners by U.S. soldiers in the Abu Ghirab prisons. Evoking a comprehensive range of emotions from viewers, Botero’s politically motivated pieces aim to impress the “absurdity of violence” upon the public. 

Although Botero knew he could not end violence and prevent war, particularly in his home of Colombia, he hoped for his artwork to be displayed in museums for people to see them as a “testimonial to a terrible moment.” As the president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, proclaimed, Fernando Botero is remembered as “the painter of our traditions and defects, the painter of our virtues. The painter of our violence and peace.”

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