Harper's Bazaar Arabia: What have been Botero’s main influences in the painting of still lifes and can you give some examples from the exhibition?
Stephane Custot: While he was making a painting of a mandolin, also a popular subject in the cubist paintings of Picasso and Braque at the time, in Mexico City in 1956, he changed the size of the hole of the instrument. He reduced the size and then realized, as a result, the proportions of the mandolin had changed. It seemed as if the instrument had grown, making the forms stronger and more sensual. Was this the birth of Boterismo? There is always a sense of mystery in his works, allowing people to create their own stories behind the artworks….a figure hurrying along a quiet street in the background, a hand on a picnic cloth, a door left ajar and darkness beyond. The entire exhibition is retrospective of his work from 1980 to 2018, celebrating his brilliant work and sheer commitment to creating the very finest artwork. We have on display a total of 30 works: 20 oil on canvas and 10 drawings and watercolours. Included in the exhibition we have Botero’s star painting "Flowers". It is worth noting that he has not painted flowers for 20 years and he especially created this masterpiece for the exhibition here in the UAE. It would be hard to tell you which is my favourite piece as they all are magnificent pieces of art with his signature Boterismo effects. Fernando Botero uses bright, vivid colours and creates a form of sensuality and voluptuousness by accentuating the shape of his chosen objects rarely seen in other works of art. They not only give wings to the imagination but also speak clearly and directly to give pleasure, so an art expert doesn’t have to be consulted to explain how or why a particular work is wonderful. These masterpieces speak for themselves.
Flowers. 2018. Oil on canvas. 176 x 115 cm. Courtesy of Custot Gallery Dubai and the artist
HBA: What are the main differences and/or similarities between his figurative works and still lifes? How is this best shown in his works in the Custot Gallery Dubai exhibition?
SC: Botero states that his paintings and sculptures go together because he was expressing a third dimension in his work as a painter; therefore it followed that he would enjoy doing this third dimension in reality and sculpture was merely a natural progression of this. As a figurative artist, he reflects the reality that he knows best, namely Latin America, striving to move the sensibility of people from different cultures. Still Life has been a very important subject matter in the History of Art and in modern times was the favourite subject of some wonderful Cubist painters. Greatly admired at the highest levels, Botero raises the mundane and everyday to the fabulous, sensual and emblematic subjects which are his signature. In his own words he feels visitors to the Custot Gallery in Dubai will appreciate the forms, the balance of compositions and the harmony of colours. It is figurative, a truly personal style, a unique approach and instantly recognisable as a Botero.
A view of the exhibition. Courtesy of Custot Gallery Dubai
HBA: How would you describe his creative process?
SC: His creative process is based on sketches. He chooses a sketch and works rapidly and that is where the creative energy is expressed. Then he begins to polish the painting, which may take months or even years, depending on how much time he spends on it at once. Botero is a fierce self-critic and does not tolerate anything he deems not good enough, even destroying the work himself.
Picnic. 2002. Oil on canvas. 115 x 167 cm. Courtesy of Custot Gallery Dubai and the artist
HBA: Do you feel that the newer works signal a shift in Botero’s work or painting style?
SC: There have been no radical changes. He has always been faithful to his belief that volume is an important element for the enjoyment of art, as are colours, composition, the poetry of the subject etc. It expresses sensuality of the forms and simultaneously depicts an exaltation of life.
Still life with fruits and coffee pot. 2002. Chalk and watercolour on paper. 26 x 36 cm. Courtesy of Custot Gallery Dubai and the artist
A Still-Life Retrospective by Fernando Botero runs until 2 March at Custot Dubai in Alserkal Avenue.
Press play for a tour of Abu Dhabi Art.