“Everything is part of my imagination”: when Domus interviewed Fernando Botero (1932-2023)

We are republishing the interview with the recently passed away artist: Domus met him on the occasion of his great exhibition at Palazzo Pallavicini.

Botero and his talent: those forms extended in a volumetric sense, which tell the vision of the world through drawing, become beauty with abundant volume, wrapped in colour as a hymn to existence. In a stable balance between irony and nostalgia, dreamlike atmospheres and fairytale realities alternate in a fortunate encounter between Italian classicism and South American culture. The fullness of the figures is in harmony with the space, the human condition, idealized, is placed on a plastic plane: his characters come from afar and have no soul, so as not to distract from the form.

Protagonists of a melancholic and poetic cycle, suspended between truth and fantasy, they remain in stable balance on the edge of beauty. The volume is in the articulations of the body, in the folds of each object, and concept. Painting is for Botero an urgent opportunity, an adhesion to that inner drive that continues, even today, to exercise its energy. Palazzo Pallavicini, in the heart of Bologna, hosts the exhibition “Botero”, with 50 unique works in an exhibition divided into seven sections, dedicated to the themes dearest to the artist.

To which meeting, or path, do we owe your first approach to the world of art and creativity?
When I was very young, while I was studying, I used to spend my time making drawings of bullfighters and bulls. Over the years, then, I moved on to other themes, giving shape to my career as an artist.

Volume becomes an expression of a reality that revolves around a plastic and sensual space. How was this reflection generated?
I find that volume is very much linked to the concept of strength, and this is exactly what I want to express. If I look at the painters and artists close to me, I notice a common denominator: plasticity, and that form of confidence between space and form. Even in this way you forge the path of an artist, through the observation and study of a particularly beloved period, capable of contaminating your thought. In my case, the Italian art of the XV century.

Painting is manifesto, reflection, and also nostalgia for a world that is in continuous transformation.
It’s true, painting is a declared thought. With a painting you can say what you believe, express visions, concepts, opinions. Nostalgia, however, is difficult to put on canvas. I lived in Colombia until I came of age, and then I moved to many other places. But every time I tell a landscape, in the background, I always go back there, to Colombia.

Your characters’ gaze is often characterized by an elusive expression: how would you like those eyes to be read?
I have always admired the look of Egyptian sculptures. They look fixedly into empty space, that is why they are so mysterious. And I am inspired by them.

Fernando Botero, Femme, 2002. Crayon on canvas, 102x68 cm. Private collection of the artist
Fernando Botero, Femme, 2002. Crayon on canvas, 102x68 cm. Private collection of the artist

What is the state of mind that leads you to be more productive today?
The circumstances, even problematic ones, that are generated in the art world are always a stimulus to work incessantly, without ever stopping.

And the comparison, how much does it count?
It is definitely important. The comparison with my work, I mean, not with that of others.

Future projects?
I’m making a series of large drawings on canvas, which I’m presenting next year in London.

Which are the cities you feel most attached to?
In my heart I have many small cities in Latin America.

And Bologna, which is now home to an exhibition dedicated to you?
I visited Palazzo Pallavicini when I was a student in Florence in the early ’50s, and I keep a special memory of it.

Are there any places or situations that fuel your creativity more than others?
Everything is part of my imagination. I lived for 15 years in New York and 40 in Paris, without ever having painted a landscape that reminded me of those cities. 

Exhibition title:
Curated by:
Francesca Bogliolo
Palazzo Pallavicini
Opening dates:
until 26 January 2020
Via San Felice 24, Bologna, Italy

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