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Fernando Botero - Inhabiting Paintings

Category: Exhibition 19. October 2011

Fernando Botero: „In my paintings, there are improbable, not impossible things. “Fernando Boteros work is on view at Bank Austria Kunstforum in Vienna. An artist- and exhibition-portrait.

“When you start a painting, it is outside of you. By the time you finish, you are already inhabiting it.”

The history of art belongs to those who have learned to see differently; those who have made visible what is hidden. The artist envisages the object, and presents it in a form which allows for immediate recognition of the message. The energy and emotion that flow into the picture become an intuitive experience, as occurs with the erotic friction between reality and art in Fernando Botero’s oeuvre.

He shows edible painting, the still lifes and their fruits being juicy and appetizing. However, a huge yellow pear with a wiggling worm in it gives an almost menacing impression, while the sweetness of the colours and the iconic stiffness of the portrayed figures can have an unsettling effect on the viewer.

The current exhibition on the Bank Austria Kunstforum is structured by topics, from nudes to still lifes, bullfights (of which Botero is an expert) to portraits and paraphrases on the old masters. The artist had studied the masters of the early renaissance and spanish baroque painting in Spain and Italy. In the Prado he discovered Goya, Velazquez and Rubens, he had already been inspired by Picasso as a youngster. A total of 70 painting are on display in the show, the pictures depicting the atrocities committed by US-Soldiers in the notorious Abu Graib prison have been donated by Botero to the University of Berkeley in San Francisco. Perhaps they will inspire artists in this formerly Mexican US-state to follow the path of the political artists Rivera, Orozco or Siqueiros.

Botero’s imagery is not based on direct observation of the model but on his inner experience of reality, and the intensity of his memory. The figures are not only a result of a visual act by Botero - also gustatory, acoustic, tactile and olfactory perceptions of the artist have been integrated and are transmitted to us via colours, surfaces, forms and every single detail.
The seemingly tasteless vivid colours and the folkloristic character of the motives are mitigated by an austere composition and a soberly structured geometry. By means of this quasi architectural clarity, he opens up a world he has appropriated and created for himself. The province of Colombia has conquered the world of art history. He is the man who takes his tale seriously and makes us laugh with it, but the comedy’s droll camouflage can transform itself into something threatening and tragic.

A „popular“taste, with excesses and strong contrasts nourishes the expansion of the figures’ forms; within an atmosphere of altarpieces, Botero places his voluminous marionettes at will. An innocently proud demeanour lies on the facial expressions of his figures in the group portraits of rural Colombia; they have the appearance of enlarged toys. The dissymmetry and spatial improbabilities are nevertheless governed by an internal logic of this distorted world, and accepted by the viewer. The visual pragmatism and the intentionally crude humour are conspicuous; the almost mischievous innocence of the naïve, presenting itself on a first image level, lures us into a plenty of traps and deceits. The accumulation of precise details and winking motives captivate and delight us, the manipulations of the skilled narrator convey a sense of authenticity - in spite of all the virtuosity.

His art reveals images that are different from the merely visible, they mutate into a perceivable loophole in reality, from which Botero’s chubby figures lean out and come out to us.

The exaggeration has turned us into accomplices in a game in which we play along euphorically. We happily move into this dream scenario – just to find us within a nightmare where the cheerful becomes abysmal. (Text: Cem Angeli)

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