Exaggerated, voluminous and curvy, Fernando Botero’s sculptures are universally recognisable. Born in Colombia and now residing in Monte Carlo in Monaco, the artist has spent a lifetime dedicated to creating paintings and sculptures featuring his trademark round figures. And, after premiering in Beijing and Shanghai, nine of his monumental bronze sculptures popped up a few days ago along Central Harbourfront as part of SummerFest, a three-month pop-up programme of art, design, sports and community events. They’re there until August 14 and create a striking display when viewed from all angles, including above.
The installation marks the final leg of the Botero China tour, which has gained much applause along the way, in particular his sculptures. “Master Botero is looking to universalise his art,” says Franco Savadori, the curatorial director of Parkview Art Hong Kong and one of the Botero in Hong Kong exhibition organisers. “When you see his works once, you will always remember and recognise them. They’re very particular and unique, and can be very funny.”
Though Botero has previously presented paintings at Art Basel Hong Kong, this exhibition marks the first time his monumental bronzeworks are on display in the city. The nine statues, which were created between 1982 and 2003, include the iconic Reclining Women, Woman with a Cigarette and Cat, which has quickly become a particular favourite with Hongkongers. The artist’s daughter, Lina Botero Zea, who has curated the exhibition, says these sculptures resonate with people across the world. “Botero’s work speaks directly to the viewer and has no need of an explanation to be understood,” she says. “This universal aspect of his work is what makes it so attractive to audiences everywhere.”
Botero, first and foremost a painter, expresses himself through every brushstroke and line. However, he discovered early on the limitations of two-dimensional canvases in showing depth and emotion, and became fascinated with the concept of volume. “My father has always believed that beauty and sensuality in art lie in the exaltation of volume,” says Botero Zea. “His work is enticing and sensual. This intention is present in every brushstroke and every aspect of his work.”
However, the exaggerated style in Botero’s art is often misunderstood. The characters he creates are described as fat or obese, yet he claims he has never drawn a fat figure in his life. “His work has nothing to do with obesity,” says his daughter, “but everything is to do with the exaltation of volume and the sensuality of the forms. The result is a universe of volume, where everything is painted or moulded with this same intention.” This is apparent as anything and everything in Botero’s art works, besides men and women, is portrayed as voluminous, including animals, landscapes and even fruit.
So, it was a natural transition for these figures to come to life in sculpture and in 1973, Botero began his foray into the medium. Here, he could take his creativity and imagination to new heights. Quickly, it’s fair to say, his quirky sculptures skyrocketed him to worldwide recognition. “Sculpture, for him, has been very important,” says Savadori. “In his way, it’s where he could fully describe his emotions and imagination.”
Self-described ‘the most Colombian of Colombian artists’, the heart of Botero’s work is always centred around his childhood memories in Medellin, Colombia. It’s the world he knew as a child and it’s this particular vision that makes his work so relatable to so many people, old and young alike. “My father has always believed that the deeper the roots, the more universal a work of art can be,” says Botero Zea, “because once it transcends cultural differences, language and geography, it speaks to that fibre in all human beings where we’re all alike.”
Despite dedicating almost 70 years to honing his skills, Botero’s style has remained relatively unchanged. “His artwork and style are out of time,” states Savadori. “He’s a man who is out of time. When everyone else was turning to abstract art, he held on to his vision and remained insistent on painting in his own style, saying ‘I want to paint in this way because this is how I feel’. He’s always been intellectually honest.” And Botero shows no signs of stopping even at the age of 84 as he still continues to paint. Keen to leave an impression and a long lasting legacy, he strives to share his artworks with the world, hence his journey finally bringing him to Asia and to Hong Kong.
Following the Beijing and Shanghai exhibitions, which displayed more than 100 of Botero’s paintings and various art pieces, Hong Kong is only able to showcase these nine sculptures due to an apparent lack of museum space. However, Botero couldn’t be happier. “It’s a huge honour for us,” says Botero Zea, “and, for my father, too, especially as he’s been able bring his work to Hong Kong to exhibit his monumental sculptures in such an emblematic placing overlooking the bay, with the amazing Hong Kong skyline behind.” Botero encourages people, particularly children, to marvel, touch and even climb the statues, so his artwork can bring joy and connect audiences with his pieces. “Art has always been about elevating the spirit,” adds Botero Zea. “It’s about touching people in their hearts. We hope this exhibition is doing just that.”