Born in Medellin, Colombia and now based in Paris, New York and Pietrasanta (Italy), Fernando Botero produces paintings and sculptures of plump figures with rotund physiques and naive, childlike expressions. Their exaggerated size and scale, as well as their playfulness, often give Botero's sculptures a humorous quality. Yet despite the bloated forms of his figures, Botero insists that he does not paint or sculpt fat people; rather his aim is to depict “volume” and “the sensuality of form” in both two and three dimensions.
"Hombre Caminante" ("Man Walking") is a monumental bronze whose subject has many art-historical precedents. The sculpture can be viewed as a reference to such works as Auguste Rodin's turn-of-the-century "L'Homme qui Marche" (‘The Walking Man’), which represents the headless figure of a moving male nude.
Botero's "Walking Man", a characteristically humorous variation on the theme, shows a sturdy male nude walking on a chubby, unclothed figure lying on its belly. Another version of the sculpture now stands in a square in the artist's birthplace of Medellin, and is one of dozens of sculptures donated by the artist to the city in 2004.
Botero began his career as a painter and started making sculpture after moving to Paris in 1973. As he explains, his paintings had a "three-dimensional element" that made it "easier for me to move into real three-dimensional work."
"I knew that in order to do sculpture, I had to stop doing work as a painter, which I enjoyed enormously," he recalls. "Finally, I said I'm going to do it. I stopped painting and started learning the craft of making sculpture. I did small things in the beginning, very timid ... As I knew more about how to do it, I did bigger things. Now I have done very large pieces!"
To Botero, combining painting and sculpture is by no means unusual. "So many artists in the past that I admire did the two things," he notes. "In the Renaissance, most artists knew how to do [sculpture], even architects. In modern times, Picasso, Matisse and Giacometti did the two things. If you have this sensibility for the plasticity, then you can apply this sensibility to painting or to sculpture."
Botero had a difficult start to life: his father died when he was four, leaving his mother penniless. An uncle enrolled him in matador school in his youth but saw that he was more interested in drawing than in bullfighting. Indeed the young Botero’s first works – drawings and watercolours of bullfights – were sold by a bullfighting ticket salesman. He published his first illustrations in a Medellin newspaper in 1948, at age 16, and had his first solo show two years later in Bogota.
After winning an art prize, Botero left Columbia for Europe at the age of 20, going first to Madrid, where he earned a living painting and selling copies of Old Masters, then to Italy and Paris. Today, his paintings and sculptures are shown internationally.
In the 1990s, Botero turned his attention to current events for a time, producing works about the drug-related violence in Colombia, and about the alleged abuses committed at the Abu Ghraib detention center where U.S. forces held prisoners.