Fernando Botero was an exceptional artist whose creations are considered masterpieces.
A collection of works by the renowned painter and sculptor are currently on show at Opera Gallery, Atlantis The Royal, until Friday.
The Colombian artist died earlier this month, leaving behind a rich artistic legacy. His body of work shows the development of an accessible visual language that combines a sense of play, satire and whimsy while experimenting with form, volume and colour.
“For more than half a century, Fernando Botero’s work has had a tremendous impact on the art world,” Sylvain Gaillard, director of Opera Gallery, tells The National.
“He is one of the few artists of the 20th century who successfully developed an artistic language with a universal appeal. On top of being critically acclaimed by the general public, he has also become a staple of museums, private and public institutions worldwide.”
Botero is famously known for developing his own unique, recognisable style known as Boterismo.
It is a style characterised by depicting objects and figures in drawings, paintings, sculptures, with exaggerated proportions, so they appear plump, voluminous and almost statuesque. His work emphasises form and volume – aiming, particularly with his figures, not to represent weight, but to relay notions of sensuality.
Botero was heavily influenced by a number of time periods and artists.
The Baroque style, known for its exaggerated forms and dramatic lighting, had a direct influence on Botero, along with the work of Italian Renaissance artists, particularly when it came to their concepts of balanced compositions.
Pablo Picasso’s approach to experimenting with different styles and manipulating geometric forms and the human anatomy, also played a part in the refinement of Botero’s style.
His incredibly recognisable style combines accessibility, joy and humour, as well as challenging political and social norms in contemporary life but also notions of realism within the art world.
“Botero's style, while playful, also carries deeper social and political undertones, making his art both accessible and thought-provoking,” Gaillard adds.
“I personally always enjoyed his work, because of the accessibility to first-time viewers, and the added layers for more scholar patrons.”
The exhibition at Opera Gallery includes large-scale paintings, detailed drawings and sculptures.
Woman With Fruit (2016) depicts a woman in a beautifully draped red dress against a stark mustard yellow wall. Aside from Botero’s exceptional portrayal of form in the work, it also shows his skilful and strategic use of bold colour that doesn’t overwhelm the viewer but holds their gaze.
The intensity of the figure’s red dress is broken by her maroon gloves and the strategic echoes of green in her purse, the apple she holds, the strap of her dress and the green fruit in the still-life painting behind her. Even the colour of the wall is reflected in shades of her complexion and dress.
All of Botero's figures are exceptionally well dressed; whether it's the musicians, family man, elegant woman, picador in a bullfight or soldiers. They carry the same hypnotised gaze and are all equally depicted with the same care, charm and artistic sensibility that makes Botero's work exceptional.
The sense of humour in the way Botero chose to depict his figures found its way outside his canvas and into the mainstream world of memes. Botero’s 1964 portrait of Pope Leo X, in which he experiments with his signature style, was given a new lease of life as a meme often used with the urban term “why though?", abbreviated to “Y Tho”.
The meme, which first gained popularity in 2014, is often used as a rhetorical and sarcastic response in a number of contexts. The meme became a form of satirical commentary online to question any behaviour, statement or state of being as seen by the user to be inconvenient or strange.
The exhibition at Opera Gallery is a rare chance to see a collection of Botero’s work up close and study not only his exceptional understating of volume, form and balance, but to gain insight on how he uses myriad people from different walks of life to compose images with a skilful use of rich and vibrant colours.
Opera Gallery sourced the artworks directly from Botero’s studio and private collection, with all the works on paper created this year shown to the public for the very first time.
“I believe this exhibition gives the viewers an accurate 'snapshot' of the late master’s body of work,” Gaillard says.
“Very few artists have been able to successfully translate their universe across different mediums, and Botero was one of them.”
Gaillard also hopes that people who visit the exhibition can see more than just the technique and the pictorial appeal of Botero’s works.
“Botero was, like most great artists, a formidable social commentator, but his message can easily be misunderstood in favour of his strong visuals and compositions,” he says.
“For this exhibition, we created a lengthy catalogue which I hope helps the viewers recalibrate their vision and understanding of Botero’s legacy.”
The Fernando Botero exhibition will be running at Opera Gallery at Atlantis The Royal until Friday