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Big is more than beautiful

THERE'S a banquet being laid out for city art lovers with world-famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero and his disciple Dario Ortizs opening an exhibition here at the Levant Art Gallery.

This is the first time Botero has exhibited in China and the show features 19 works by Botero and Ortizs. Among the oil paintings, watercolors, sculptures and sketches is one painting regarded as the epitome of his work - "Woman in Front of the Mirror."

It is a scene of a typically chubby nude woman adjusting her hair and is valued at about US$1 million.

Born in the small town of Medellin in Colombia in 1923, Botero lost his father when he was only four years old and suffered a poverty-stricken life with his mother.

Living in a country where people are judged by social status, young Botero quickly learned the difference between rich and poor. "Life is a harsh challenge when you're suffering poverty," he says, recalling his early life.

Botero didn't leave his hometown until he was 19. He once described himself as "an artist born in the third world. I didn't grow up around the museums and traditional art circle. So from the very beginning, I tried to get close and observe people and objects around me with a fresh vision and experience."

Botero used to visit a local bullfighting school for interest, planning at one stage to become a bullfighter. But the moment he saw a bull face-to-face and live, he gave this career up. He stopped learning how to control bulls, but began learning how to paint them and bullfighters.

After his paintings won the Salon Nacional de Artistas award, he went to Europe, especially Italy, where he and his work became famous.

Botero is internationally known for his paintings and sculptures of obese figures, usually objective and ironic images of aristocracy and the middle class.

Almost all the characters in his works have the same faces and expressions, and those obese bodies. However, since the themes are different, there is a touch of the comical. Even Jesus and the Virgin Mary cannot avoid being obese.

When asked why he chose obesity as a major characteristic of his work, Botero says: "Actually, what I've painted are not obese. I want to express a feeling of beauty. You know, many times art is transformed and exaggerated. It's nothing to do with obesity. Not only people, but also animals, fruit and instruments, all the figures in my paintings are bulgy."

For Botero, art is, on one side, a tool to express his opinions. On the other side, it's an ideal vision that he wants to reach but never succeeds.

The fat and rounded heads and bodies look funny, even ridiculous. They never think, never express happiness or pain, but stare out of the pictures with empty eyes.

The strong visual shocks also exist in the way he depicts objects - fruit, such as oranges and bananas, look so full viewers could believe they could explode at any minute. These images are repeated, adding a strange dignity and peace which only usually appears in classical art, pulling beauty to a new height.

Date: through April 30, 10am-6pm

Address: 4/F, 28B Yuyao Rd

Tel: 5213-5366


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