Thursday, February 01, 2007

Following Autumn Showing in NYC, Botero's Abu Ghraib Paintings And Drawings Now Causing Aftershocks In Berkeley, California

"Fernando Botero must number among the most famous painters alive.

Even people unaware of his name know his manner of giving doughboy features to everything in his paintings and sculpture, from people and animals to automobiles and fruit.

The popularity of Botero's art has made him rich -- rich enough to have donated to city museums in his native Colombia his collection of works by artists no less famous in their times than he: Max Beckmann, Edgar Degas, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and others.

But Botero, 74, took everyone by surprise when he devoted a series of drawings and paintings to the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American security personnel at Abu Ghraib detention center, west of Baghdad.

UC Berkeley, through its Center for Latin American Studies, has brought many of Botero's Abu Ghraib pictures to the West Coast for the first time for a show, opening today in the university's Doe Library.

The artist never expected the work to achieve the notoriety it has.

"I have a friend," Botero said in conversation at the library, "who has a small magazine in Colombia. When I told him about these pictures he said, 'It sounds very interesting. Why don't we publish them?' So I gave some to him, and the very next day I heard from Agence France Presse, Associated Press in the United States, even papers in China, in Russia, and of course the Arab countries. They all wanted to write about them. It's just amazing how everybody knows about everything so quickly now."

With gunmetal gray hair, mustache and goatee, Botero speaks a serviceable English filigreed with a Spanish accent. His gracious and urbane demeanor befits someone whose study of art long ago took him from Colombia to Spain and Italy and to periods of living in Mexico City and the United States before he settled in Paris, where he continues to live.

I asked him to explain how the Abu Ghraib series began.

"The whole world and myself were very shocked that the Americans were torturing prisoners in the same prison as the tyrant they came to remove," he said. "The United States presents itself as a defender of human rights and of course as an artist I was very shocked with this and angry. The more I read, the more I was motivated. ... I think Seymour Hersh's article was the first one I read. I was on a plane and I took a pencil and paper and started drawing. Then I got to my studio and continued with oil paintings. I studied all the material I could. It didn't make sense to copy, I was just trying to visualize what was really happening there."

In all, he produced 87 drawings and paintings on the subject." ...

Kenneth Baker "Abu Ghraib's horrific images drove artist Fernando Botero into action" San Francisco Chronicle January 29, 2007

Fernando Botero "Abu Ghraib 46" (2005), oil on canvas.

Image credt: (c) Fernando Botero 2005. All rights reserved. Via With thanks.


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