BOGOTA — Colombian artist Fernando Botero, whose sculptures and paintings depicting playful, round subjects in sometimes distressing situations made him one of the world’s richest artists, has died at age 91.
Considered South America’s answer to Picasso, Botero also addressed violence and political topics, including Colombia’s internal conflicts, as well as everyday life.
His works have been featured in exhibitions around the world. His paintings and sculptures sell for more than $2 million each, according to Sotheby’s.
The artist’s full-bodied subjects were depicted in everyday situations—a portly nude woman lounging on a bed or a portly man humorously riding an oversized horse—but served the artist’s more serious purpose: transporting the reader into what he calls a “superlative dimension”. , where banal situations have taken on exaggerated proportions.
Despite the comic roundness of many of his creations, the artist never shied away from serious subjects: his series of paintings on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal sparked discussion in the art world.
“Fernando Botero is dead, the painter of our traditions and our faults, the painter of our virtues. The painter of our violence and peace,” Colombian President Gustavo Petro said on X, the former social network Twitter.
Although widely known for his large subjects, Botero insisted that his pieces were not focused on body type.
“I don’t paint fat women,” the artist told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo in 2014, “no one believes me, but it’s true. What I paint are volumes.
Botero’s work sometimes focuses on Colombia’s long-running internal conflict – he paints the aftermath of a car bomb and a group of partygoers threatened by men wielding automatic weapons and bloody machetes.
He also created ironic portraits of public figures, including the founder of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group, Manuel Marulanda.
Botero also paid homage to classical paintings with witty reworkings – his version of the Mona Lisa is particularly bloated compared to Leonardo da Vinci’s original.
But it was his series on Abu Ghraib that captured the world’s attention. The paintings, based on victim testimonies and photos taken of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers, are graphic and harrowing.
The series has been exposed worldwide, attracting tens of thousands of viewers. The New York Times said the paintings, while not masterpieces, “restore the prisoners’ dignity and humanity without diminishing their agony.”
The final decades of Botero, one of the world’s richest artists, were a far cry from his humble beginnings.
Fernando Botero Angulo, son of a traveling salesman and a seamstress, was born on April 19, 1932 in Medellin, Colombia.
As an artist, Botero sought to make his work accessible, donating more than 200 works to create the Botero Museum in Bogota, which is free and receives half a million visitors a year.
More than a hundred works belonged to him, while others came from masters such as Picasso, Dali and Monet.
He donated 150 other works to a museum in Medellin and 23 of his sculptures are installed outdoors in Plaza Botero.
Botero is survived by his wife Sophia Vari, two sons and a daughter. Another son, aged 4, was killed in a car accident in 1974.
Even until he was 80, the artist painted at least eight hours a day.
“I want to die painting,” he told the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo the year he turned 80.