An interview with Fernando Botero

My fat Madonna and Lucifer are now a trademark for the town

Margreta Moss
September 6, 2007

Fernando Botero was born in 1932 in the city of Medellín in Colombia. An abstract artist, Botero’s paintings and sculptures are noteworthy for their exaggerated proportions and the sheer corpulence of the human and animals figures depicted. Through the careful use of colour, shape and form, Botero seeks both to capture the essence of his subjects and also reflect his political beliefs and social ideals. His celebrated paintings and bronze sculptures have been exhibited all over the world. At the age of 75, he lives and works with his wife, Sofia Vari, in Paris and Pietrasanta.

Although you can spot his house along Via della Rocca in Pietrasanta by the large, chubby bronze bird perched on the gate at the entrance, Botero prefers to have an informal, more-relaxed chat at Il  Caffe’ del Teatro,  where he is very well known and greeted with friendly familiarity. He feels at home here in Pietrasanta, and it shows.

 

What is your relationship with Pietrasanta? Why have you decided to live here part-time?

 

I love living in Pietrasanta. This town has become a great family, a place where everybody knows me and where I can share an informal word and a glass of wine. I enjoyed painting in the small chapel of the Misercordia. I gave two frescoes as a token of my love for this land. In return, I just asked the mayor for special permission to ride my motorcycle without a helmet. Just joking! I go to the beach by car or by bike.

 

I have several houses around the world, but sentimentally speaking, this is my favorite abode. I enjoy staying and working here. I feel relaxed among my papers, my books, my reliable craftsmen and artisans. All the foundries are here, everything is at hand, and little time is wasted.

 

How do you think of Tuscany when you are abroad?

 

As a very special place to return to with joy. It is a marvelous place, with no comparisons in the arts and scenic beauty. When I first came here, a long time ago, I was charmed by Florence, a place that still leaves you dazzled, even though I wouldn’t live there all year round. It’s fine for three months. As my permanent residence, I prefer Paris. When I come in November to check on my works in the foundries, Pietrasanta seems a gloomy town in the winter. In any case, I enjoy moving from one place to another, leading a nomadic kind of life, which suits both me and my wife.

 

How do you spend your time in Pietrasanta during the summer?

 

I wake up at 9am. At 10 I’m in the foundry. Then I go back home to work. Here, I do only sculptures, no paintings. Around 2 we go to the beach―the same bagno I have had for years―until about 5. Then I do some more work before spending the evening with friends, artists and collectors. In July, my grandchildren arrive, and we become a big, happy, chaotic, 18-person family.

 

What does the Versilia represent for you?

 

Pietrasanta is a city that was made for sculptors. Not by chance: there are seven foundries and many marble artisans. It is therefore a place which serves as an excellent reference and great help for this kind of job. You can still find many experienced and competent people working here, alongside a relaxed atmosphere, both familiar and informal. Everyone here knows me and my wife very well. They call us by name and they invite us to the bar for a drink, as if we were all old friends. I’ve worked in Paris, Berlin, Switzerland, but here everything is easier and more enjoyable.

 

How is your work coming along? Do you have any interesting projects in the works at the moment?

 

At the moment I am working on two huge sculptures, a 4-meter tall horse and a pair of dancers. I do only what I like in my art. The only piece I’ve done on commission in my entire life is now in the Liverpool Street Station, in London. Running from July 5 until September, there will be a large exhibition of my work at the Palazzo Reale in Milan, featuring about 150 pieces, including paintings and sculptures. Many of them were inspired by the circus.

 

Do you consider yourself a ‘complete’ artist?

 

An artist is never ‘complete’. Although their art is in constant evolution, they as people never change. In art you can’t have ‘a spring or winter’ collection of works. The important thing is having a strong inner feeling and sense of determination, necessary for helping develop your personal style. A strong belief about what you feel is excellence in art.

 

Everyone has a beginning that establishes what you do and marks it as unique and unmistakable. If I’d change my view on what I consider great art, I’d probably change style. I am lucky enough to have loved and understood paintings of the 15th century: this has given depth and thickness to my work. This important past has nourished me, and has helped me to create an intellectual itinerary in art, which generates restlessness, research, and, thus, personal style.

 

Today, more and more artists seem to have either no tradition or basic culture. They don’t care or don’t know anything about Giotto or Piero della Francesca. They invent their own style and improvise showroom of works. They might be successful, but excellence is far from them.

 

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of art and sculpture?

 

I don’t want to be negative. I don’t suffer any anxiety for the future of the universe. I don’t have anything metaphysical or esoteric sense or fear in me or in my artwork. I like to be optimistic, but I do see darkness in the future of art. Merely because artistic instinct is not enough, intuition or talent or manual practice by themselves do not provide, nor guarantee the creation of art.

 

Lastly, tell me about the frescoes you created in Pietrasanta.

 

In ancient Greece, art was a manifesto of culture, so in Catholic Italy, I painted the Inferno and Paradiso according to my own personal style. Some critics dislike them because they are in strong contrast with the antique architecture and the other more classical paintings in the Misericordia, yet my fat Madonna and Lucifer are now a trademark for the town and attract many visitors every year. My cupids and demons are both chubby, and even Death doesn’t inspire fear or horror. It is a message of warning, but also of hope. And I wanted some of the most important people of the last century symbolising Evil and Good, so I painted Hitler and Mother Teresa.

 

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/roel1943/316379001/in/set-72157594371805754/

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