Columbian painter and sculptor, Fernando Botero was born on April 19, 1932 in Medellín – a town famed for being the stronghold of infamous drug lord, Pablo Escobar. Botero is known for having a unique and instantly recognizable aesthetic full of large, rounded, almost swollen characters, which he creates through fine lines and immense levels of detail…

Through this utterly singular vision, the painter does not appear to be attached or belong to any artistic current or movement. 

An extremely prolific artist, just as much a sculptor as he is a painter, he remains without a doubt the most well-known living artist in all of Latin America! We’re taking a look back on the origins of this distinct and unique aesthetic. 

In Search of a Distinct Style

Fernando Botero, Nature morte à la mandoline, 1957
Fernando Botero, Still Life with Mandolin, 1957

In the beginning, Botero had a lot of trouble spreading word of his work. He only started to gain acknowledgment for his work once it was picked up by museums and local newspapers in the late 1950s. He hasn’t always painted things big, however!

At the end of his university career in 1952, Botero leaves for Europe where he went on to study the techniques of the greats like Velázquez and Goya. He spends much of his time in Italie with a deep fascination in the Renaissance, where he learns about fresco art and discovers painters such as Uccello and Piero della Francesca. 

He later returns to Central America and settles in Mexico. It’s there in 1957 where he paints Still Life with Mandolin and discovers how to distort and dilate shapes. This canvas is one of his first pieces inspired by Pre-Columbian and Folk Art!

Voluptuousness and Grandiosity

Botero recounts the turning point of his career

“I had always tried to render monumental shapes in my work. One day, after a lot of work, I took a pencil at random and drew a mandolin with a very large shape, just as I would always do. But when it came time to draw the hole in the middle of the instrument, I decided to make it much smaller and suddenly the mandolin grew in size and took on extraordinary proportions.”

Fernando Botero

In 1958, the artist won the first prize at the Columbian National Salon of Artists, which set his artistic career in motion!

Indeed, Botero’s style contains multiple elements which, all combined, produce a rather unique and peculiar effect. His subjects, all of whom appear voluptuous, some may even say “obese“, are all made up of regular-sized, even small, lines that make it appear somewhat normal. 

The Columbian artist confirms this with his anecdote on the shape of the mandolin, saying that one can draw thinner lines with more minimalism than one normally would in order to achieve larger and more ample shapes. 

Fernando Bottero, Danseuse à la Barre, 2001
Fernando Bottero, Dancers at the Bar, 2001

The third distinctive style trait from artist Botero happens to be the unique stoic facial expressions he gives the characters that fill his imaginative canvasses. Even in his portraits the unique facial expressions remain emotionless and unfazed. 

No matter who the subject may be, all of Botero’s characters retain the same plump and podgy physicality! Furthermore, the subject matter of each painting can change drastically from canvas to canvas; stretching from prostitution to bullfighting, religious scenes…

He also made a name for himself reproducing famous artworks in his own style. By doing so, he makes sure to retain the facial expressions from the original pieces – as seen with his version of the Mona Lisa

Botero, Mona Lisa à l'âge de douze ans, 1959
Botero, Monalisa, 1959

Coincidentally, it’s this very painting that first gave him recognition in the United States when it was bought by New York’s MoMa in 1961! It was then featured in an edition of the New York Times! From that day on, the career of the Columbian painter and sculptor took off…

Artists inspired by roundness on KAZoART