por­trait of power The Pres­i­dent and His Min­is­ters (2011)

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

Botero pro­duced a series of works about Colom­bian drug lord Pablo Es­co­bar, although these were ar­guably less con­fronting—and closer to home. Does he think art has a so­cial duty? “The obli­ga­tion of an artist is to do great paint­ing,” he says. “If by chance you be­come in­volved in a sit­u­a­tion and pro­duce great art as a con­se­quence, then you are still ful­fill­ing your obli­ga­tion.”

Botero finds in­spi­ra­tion ev­ery­where. One of the themes that al­ways ex­cites his fans is bull­fight­ing. In his late teens Botero be­gan train­ing as a mata­dor with the “vague idea” of be­com­ing a pro­fes­sional. “Ah, it was so unim­por­tant, but peo­ple keep ask­ing me about this,” he sighs when I ask about those days. He has prob­a­bly been an­swer­ing the same ques­tions for more than six decades, yet this is the first time in our con­ver­sa­tion that he has in­ti­mated any frus­tra­tion. “I went to a school to learn how to bull­fight but I wasn’t there long be­fore I re­alised I was more in­ter­ested in paint­ing than bulls.”

Fi­nally we come to the sub­ject of fat­ness. “Say­ing my fa­ther paints fat peo­ple is like say­ing El Greco or Gi­a­cometti painted thin peo­ple,” says Juan Carlos. “What you see in my fa­ther’s work is an ex­al­ta­tion of vol­ume. He be­lieves vol­ume com­mu­ni­cates beauty.” The artist weighs in on an­other ques­tion he’s no doubt ad­dressed hun­dreds of times be­fore, do­ing so with keen in­ter­est. “For me, fruit will be vo­lu­mi­nous and sen­sual, the same for a dog or a horse or a moun­tain. I love to ex­press the sen­su­al­ity of the forms, the plen­i­tude of the forms. I love the loud­ness of things, the ex­ag­ger­a­tion. This ex­cites me.”

It’s al­most ex­pected that canon­i­cal artists will be rid­dled with neu­roses and ec­cen­tric­i­ties. One need only think of Pi­casso or Vin­cent van Gogh. But Botero is, sim­ply, con­tent. There’s a won­der­ful irony in the fact that the mas­ter of fan­tas­ti­cal ex­ag­ger­a­tion is an­a­lyt­i­cal, cour­te­ous and pa­tient. An hour has flown by and Botero is due at his next ap­point­ment, his min­der re­minds him. I feel the urge to give him a hug, the way you might hug your grand­fa­ther, but we opt for a warm hand­shake, then a selfie to mark the oc­ca­sion, and go our sep­a­rate ways.

Botero in Hong Kong will be on dis­play on the Cen­tral Har­bourfront from June 3 un­til Au­gust 14. For more in­for­ma­tion, con­tact Parkview Art Hong Kong at info@parkviewarthk or visit boteroin­hongkong.org

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