Fernando Botero, recipient of the ISC’s 2012 Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture award, is of course at least as well known for his work in two dimensions as three. In Circus, Botero uses drawing and painting to capture a theme that Modernists have addressed from Renoir to Picasso, Léger to Calder, collecting all 130 paintings and 50 works on paper that the artist has been assembling since encountering a traveling circus in Mexico, similar to those humble circuses he remembered from his youth in Medellin.
An interesting introduction by Curtis Bill Pepper is supplemented by timelines of the author’s life and exhibition history, as well as a bibliography and a list of the Circus works. Pepper elicits from Botero an explanation of what Pepper initially calls the “pneumatically inflated” men and women so typical of the artist’s work. Botero explains in simple aesthetic terms, as a painter: “Their exalted volume…allows me to apply more color with a sensuality, and exuberant profusion of form.” Botero also, plainly tired of his figures being called pneumatic, says that his figures are plainly fully fleshed rather than pumped full of air.
The whole carnivalesque cast of men, women, and animals is presented on-stage and off, mostly with somewhat impassive expressions that imply a sort of professional detachment, an aesthetic distance perhaps. The drawings are particularly interesting in showing the moment when these characters first come to life, in simple but assured lines and minimal colors, less saturated than the colors in the paintings. It’s a beautiful book, as solid and substantial as the large horses that appear throughout the images, and in fact one of the more interesting aspects of the paintings is that in contrast to the carefully observed horses, many of the more exotic animals have an expressive quality akin to naïve painting. Perhaps there’s a bit of Rousseau not just in these animals but in Botero’s human figures as well?
By Glenn Harper