The Miami Herald
May 8, 2000
Botero laments `decadence' of art


 BOGOTA, Colombia -- An artist of prodigious output, Fernando Botero toils on his
 feet for nine or 10 hours nearly every day in ``absolute silence'' in one of his many
 art studios.

 ``One doesn't feel tired,'' Botero said. ``It's incredible. . . . Picasso said something
 interesting. It is that painters don't grow weary because when they enter the
 studio, they leave their bodies outside.''

 In an interview with The Herald, the Colombian artist recounted the way he works,
 his disdain for modern painting, and his thrill at exhibiting huge sculptures in the
 world's great cities.

 He defended the uniquely fat subjects that have become his trademark.

 ``It is very important that art be completely recognizable,'' Botero said.

 ``When people see one of my paintings, they say, `This is a Botero.' ''

 He brushes off those who urge him to experiment.


 ``Everyone says, `When are you going to change styles?' This makes me laugh,''
 he said. ``El Greco painted El Grecos his whole life. El Greco didn't paint
 Michelangelos or Giottos. . . . All artists are this way. They paint the same way.''

 Botero sculpts in rural Italy in the summer and spends his winters painting at his
 studios in Europe and New York City.

 ``I get up around 11 in the morning and go right to the studio,'' he said. ``At around
 2 in the afternoon, I read the newspaper and eat a salad. I eat lightly, so that I can
 keep working until 8:30 at night.''

 He works seven days a week. ``I do it because of the enormous pleasure it brings

 Botero fills sketchbooks with any ideas that come into his head.

 ``Sometimes while I'm painting, I'll have an idea for another composition,'' he said.
 ``So I'll stop, make a small sketch, usually for less than a minute, then go back
 to painting. I have hundreds of small sketches.''


 Botero's body of work is immense: at least 2,500 paintings, about 200 of the huge
 outdoor sculptures that weigh an average of 3,000 pounds, and hundreds of more
 modest sculptures.

 His huge outdoor sculptures have been on display on Park Avenue in New York
 City, Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles and the Champs
 Elysees in Paris, and in Madrid, Lisbon, Frankfurt, Florence -- and Miami and Fort

 ``I am the only artist capable of doing exhibitions of this magnitude,'' he said.
 Even so, Botero considers himself more of a painter than a sculptor.

 ``I have been a painter for 50 years and a sculptor for 25 years,'' he said.

 Feted regularly at royal Monte Carlo balls, Botero and his Greek-born wife, Sophia
 Vari, often appear in the pages of jet-set magazines. Botero enjoys his fame and
 his wealth.


 ``Success is important in the sense that it is a stimulus,'' he said. ``I have worked
 with success and without success. When no one cares about what you are
 doing, and you work in a vacuum, it is harder to maintain a rhythm.''

 Turning to his family, Botero said he has reconciled with his eldest son, Fernando
 Botero Zea, after some strain. The son, a Harvard-educated former defense
 minister, was detained in 1995 in a drug-money scandal that nearly toppled
 then-President Ernesto Samper.

 ``As you can imagine, this was a very painful moment for me and my family,'' the
 artist said. ``Fernando is my son. The relationship has begun again, but we never
 talk about the past because there is nothing to say.''

 Another son, Juan Carlos, has just moved to South Florida. A daughter, Lina, also
 lives abroad. In 1974, Botero's life saw tragedy. An auto accident in Spain took
 the life of his son Pedro and severely damaged the artist's right hand.


 ``I was at the point of not being able to paint anymore,'' he recalled. ``They
 operated, finger by finger. I don't have a lot of mobility, but at least it's sufficient to

 And work he does, on a solitary journey of creation, scorning many of his
 colleagues in the current art world.

 ``Contemporary art is a disaster,'' he said. ``Art is passing through a period of
 total decadence. Art these days has lost its aim, which foremost should be to
 elevate the spirit or give pleasure. Art these days . . . seeks to produce shock.''

 The trend has been long-lasting, he said. ``If you compare the end of the last
 century, with Cezanne and Van Gogh and all the impressionists, and the end of
 this century, it is just poverty. . . . It has been a century of huge scientific
 advances but a profound spiritual decadence in the fine arts.''

                     Copyright 2000 Miami Herald