Fernando Botero Angulo was born in 1932 in Medellín, Antioquia, in the mountains of Colombia. His father, a salesman, died when Botero was four years old. An uncle stepped in and became an influential presence in his life. His uncle encouraged his education and sent him to a school for matadors for several years. He began painting as teenager.
Early in his life, Botero had no exposure to museums and other cultural institutes, but he was able to absorb the aesthetic of the Baroque style colonial churches and pre-Columbian and Spanish art that he could see in the city he lived in. He was exposed to the works of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. At 16, Botero created and published illustrations for the Sunday supplement of the El Colombiano daily paper and was able to attend high school at the Liceo de Marinilla de Antioquia with the money he earned.
Fernando Botero’s paintings were first exhibited in 1948, and two years later, in Bogotá, he had his first solo show held at the Galería Leo Matiz in Bogotá. In 1952, Botero went with a group of artists to Barcelona and soon after moved to Madrid. Botero studied at the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid, and spent a lot time in the Prado Museum, studying the works Francisco de Goya and Diego Velázquez. By 1953, he moved to Paris and studied the collections in the Louvre, and then moved to Florence where he was focused his attentions on studying the Renaissance masters. He studied the technique of fresco painting and copied works of Giotto and Anrea del Castagno. Throughout the 1950s, Botero began to first experiment with elements of proportion and size in his work.
When he moved to New York City in 1960, Fernando Botero had developed the style he has become known for in his work depicting inflated human and animal shapes. His early work references Latin-American folk art and has a smooth finish without the appearance of brushwork and texture. His subjects include bordello scenes and nudes, with a comic quality, and portraits of families. Shortly after moving to New York, he won the Guggenheim National Prize for Colombia. In 1966, Fernando Botero had his first important European exhibition at the ‘Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden’, and then exhibited at the Milwaukee Art Center in December, which was important in helping become established in the United States.
In 1973, Fernando Botero returned to Paris. It was at this time that he started creating sculptures which incorporate the same style and concerns of his painting. At this point in his career, his subjects are primarily portraits, still-life and animals. However, in 2004 Botero began working with more political subjects and wanted to draw attention to important issues of the world. One such series, centered around this theme, exhibited a series about the violence in Colombia from the drug cartels. He exhibited 27 drawings and 23 paintings dealing with this subject at the National Museum of Colombia. These pieces were also donated to the museum.
In 2005, the Abu Ghraib series, based on the United States forces’ abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq War, received critical acclaim and was first exhibited in Europe. The series included more than 85 paintings and 100 drawings. In 2007, the series was shown in the US and again Fernando Botero donated the entire series to museums. Having devoted so much of himself to this series and difficult subject matter, Botero returned to the subjects of his earlier works, focusing on themes of family. In 2008, he exhibited a body of work entitled The Circus, which was made up of 20 works in oil and watercolor.
Today Botero’s works are still exhibited in numerous international museums and exhibitions. Fernando Botero lives and works in New York and Paris. He spends one month a year in Colombia, but considers himself the “most Colombian artist living”. He has had more than 50 exhibits in major cities worldwide, and his work commands selling prices in the millions of dollars. Many believe he is one of the most important artists working today.
Interview with Fernando Botero on YouTube
Fernando Botero’s “Abu Ghraib” – A Conversation with the artist
US Berkley Lecture