Arts & Culture

The Striking Similarities Between Colombian Artist Fernando Botero and Philippine Masters

The cultures of Colombia and the Philippines are so intrinsically intertwined because of our shared history of colonization by Spain.
IMAGE COURTESY OF ART FAIR PHILIPPINES
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As the grandchild of one of the most important living artists of our time, Felipe Botero is always eager to share funny stories about master Fernando Botero, as well as delve into the more technical aspects of his work.


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Felipe Botero, grandson of Colombian Artist Fernando Botero

Speaking before a packed audience at Art Fair Philippines over the weekend, Felipe began his presentation by asking the question, “Why is Botero’s art significant and relevant to the Philippines?”

Felipe shared how amazed he was to learn through his research, that the cultures of his own country of Colombia and the Philippines are so intrinsically intertwined because of our shared history of colonization by Spain.


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Felipe showed samples of religious colonial art done by his grandfather, as well as Filipino art luminary Damian Domingo, explaining how artists used their art to subtly express their criticism of the ever-imposing role religion played within society and the family unit. Botero’s depiction of Judas in The Kiss of Judas resembles drug lord Pablo Escobar and was his strong social commentary on the state of his beloved country, which Felipe likened to the work of National Artist BenCab during the Marcos era.

Botero’s art has dealt with serious subjects in a sometimes-comical manner as well. He's used humor to deliver strong messages about the church and politics, and has included unobtrusive elements like snakes or rotten fruit to symbolize the insidious presence of powerful influences in society, such as the military and the clergy.


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Through Felipe’s refreshingly candid anecdotes, the audience learned of Botero’s enduring love for his mountainous hometown of Medellín, how he had been expelled from school there at 16 for writing a controversial article in the papers. How, not long after that, the young Botero declared his goal to become the next Picasso, much to the chagrin of his relatives, particularly his mother who worried that he would end up becoming a starving artist.  

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A high point of the talk and one that elicited applause from the crowd, was when Felipe played a piece of traditional Colombian music as the ‘soundtrack’ to a Fabian de la Rosa painting and then, used a kundiman to accompany one of master Botero’s iconic dancers.

It was such a skillful way of showing how important universality of subject matter was for Botero. Felipe took it further by noting how the scenes and subjects that our very own Hidalgo, Amorsolo, and Manansala painted are very Filipino in their portrayal and execution but still relatable to viewers of other nationalities, not unlike Botero’s paintings of Paisa or Colombian people are because of the feelings of nostalgia and love of country that they convey.


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Man With Violin

He then illustrated the almost interchangeable quality of Botero’s paintings with those of Filipino artists’ H.R. Ocampo, Victorio Edades, and Cesar Legaspi, as each embodies a common heavy cubist influence. Botero also explored abstract expressionism at one point in his career, fascinated as he was with the technical challenges involved in the painting and applying his own aesthetic as his particular style evolved. 


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Three Women Drinking


Matador With Trophy

It was when Botero was living in Mexico that he discovered his talent for creating images that were exaggerated in volume and dimension, resulting in vibrant and unique pieces of art. It is his signature manner of expression, “Boterismo,” that breathes new life to the subjects of his artworks, whether in his sculptures or paintings.

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Felipe talked about his grandfather’s preoccupation with volume and dispelled the commonly held notion that Master Botero’s art was all about fat people. “Proof of this is that my grandfather applies his volumetric technique to all the elements in his paintings: not just the people but also the mountains, clouds, churches, animals and even the items in his still life paintings.”


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As Botero turns 87 this April, he counts among his many achievements the countless museum exhibitions he’s participated in worldwide. His art is considered one of the most recognizable in the world; but to Felipe, he is the beloved and admired grandfather who desires only to keep creating his art until he no longer can.

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Risa Regala-Garcia
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