Fernando Botero, born in Medellín in 1932, he painted the color and volumes of the nature of his uberrimo country since he was a teenager. It is also the burned artist who, without neglecting the volumes that have made his style so unique, was filled with anger before the torture of Abu Ghraib and also faced the wounds left in Colombia by the longest and most bloody war that his country and the American continent have suffered. Last night opened in his gallery, Marlborough, in Madrid, an exhibition full of color and joy. It is the first one made in the capital since 1994. "The destiny of art, pain or beauty, is to seek aesthetic pleasure," he said yesterday in an interview with EL PAÍS.
In the exhibition there are toasts, streets, bullfighters, joy, but there is never in those who thus celebrate life or a hint of a smile. He, on the other hand, laughs a lot. But they are all boteros, as he says himself. "Everyone has the volumes that I wanted to give to my figures since I was a teenager."
The painter divides his time between Italy and Monaco, where he studies. Although his figure awakens the suspicion of the power that economically brings his art, retains his Antioqueno humor that allows him to laugh also of the shadows of his figures and, in his way, of those who, according to him, criticize the taste that The market has for its paintings and for its sculptures. It is, he says himself, "the most exposed painter in the world", and according to statistics, of the most sought-after.
He is already 86 years old. The works he is now exhibiting, recent paintings – until March 3 – show that he continues to paint (he does not sculpt so much). He suffered an accident two years ago in his house in Antioquia: a fire burned his house. He was scared and swallowed smoke, and that's why at the beginning of the conversation he apologized for his rasp. "The smoke stayed in there and broke," he laughed, "my beautiful singing voice."
Question. So much that maybe he could have been a singer and not a painter. Where does that faculty for art come from?
Answer. There was no tradition in my family. I do not know why I started to draw bulls, landscapes, still lifes, why people came to my paintings … The truth is that at 19 I wanted to be a painter. And my mother left me. At 19 I already made the first exhibition. The first thing I did truly boterian was a mandolin. I was attracted by the spaciousness and generosity of the external outline of his body and the smallness of the detail. That sketch was my starting point. Large figures and small objects on the side. It took me 15 years to do what is called a botero from start to finish, but it was insisting on the same idea and in the same universe. The maturity of the style depends on the work, it takes a lot of time. And there came the characters, the boatmen. He had no visible influences, there was coherence, the result of an obsession that starts with the mandolin.
P. Günter Grass said that a ham is a meat mandolin.
R. It's a strange thing: ham always gives an idea of a big shape next to a small one. It has to do with a certain plastic idea of which I participate. And notice that humanity also tends to frame; You make a picture and you frame it, or you take a note and you frame it. That construction of the ham, as well as the desire to emphasize, are part of the subconscious of humanity. And my boatmen are born of those metaphors.
P. What is a boatman from start to finish?
R. It's what people already see as a boatman. Corresponds to my painting. There are people who believe that my name comes from the paintings, and sometimes I myself thought that Picasso, for example, it is called like that because its painting has been done as itching. Or what Chagall It is called like that because its paintings are like flares. And I am Botero. I do not call myself that because of my paintings! But people insist on believing that the painting was before me.
P. From the birth of his painting those forms are like this …
R. There was always a tendency to very large volume. When I started, they were like that; and then, when I learned about the history of art, I felt that it could resemble Picasso's blue period. And immediately I got lost in a forest of attractive, monumental and volumetric things, I found Masaccio, Giotto or Piero della Francesca… I began to identify with these artists, but at no time did I stop believing that the path you have is the true one. Painting is creating a style; if there is conviction the style is born by itself.
P. He has received many criticisms for selling them so much …
R. The people who see a boatman remember it, it is recorded in his mind. I see it a kilometer away, and yes, people are looking for it. It's wrong to say it, but I'm the living painter who has exposed the most in the world, including China. There they say: "Even young children recognize a Botero!".
P. In this exhibition he combines toasts that make people with a sad expression, but the color is very cheerful.
R. Art should produce pleasure, a tendency to a positive feeling. Tiziano or Botticelli had rather kind themes, they gave pleasure. But I have painted dramatic things. I have always sought coherence, aesthetics, but I have painted the violence, the torture, the passion of Christ … There is a different pleasure in dramatic painting, painting itself. The greatest joy of painting, beauty, does not put to scorn the dramatic and the pleasant. The pleasure of painting is pleasure for itself.
P. Work on violence cure of violence?
R. It does not have that capacity …
P. Does it cure you?
R. Yes, to a certain extent. He was obsessed when he tortured them at Abu Ghraib. It took me a year to make the paintings, I felt liberated from that moral atrocity that supposed such injustice. And that's why I did it. But art does not correct anything. It happened later in the paintings I painted about violence in Colombia. The violence was there. He followed. A generation was sacrificed, corruption, drugs … My responsibility was to paint correctly, with plastic quality. Removing that wound is not the art's business.
P. Now violence was relieved …
R. But other violence follows. The common delinquency is present, the narcos persist although with different capos and the drug will continue while it is consumed in the United States …
P. You made a monument to peace in Medellin and the terrorists disbanded him.
R. A dove of peace. They caused 22 dead and more than 100 injured. The dove jumped in pieces. I asked them not to rebuild it, to leave it like that, and I turned it into an abstract monument, next to which I returned to make another tribute to peace … This week they are going to dynamite the house of Pablo Escobar in Medellin so that this memory will not last. It will be very difficult to erase it.
P. And now the border with Venezuela is in serious conflict.
R. A very delicate situation. Obviously, Maduro is disastrous, but to invade a country, and above all to invade the United States, with its precedents, would turn this moment into a very dangerous moment.