Too many people spend their time criticizing those who are overweight, unaware of how beautiful a bigger body can be. But not Fernando Botero. My Colombian roots may encourage me to take any opportunity to mention talented and prominent Colombian figures known for something other than drug trafficking (yes, yes, we produce a lot of cocaine, etc.), but Colombian or not, there is no doubt that Botero is remarkable. The 80-year-old figurative artist is known throughout the world for his “fat fetish.” I don’t know if fetish is the right word or not, but time and time again he paints, draws and sculpts images of very large men, women, children, animals and even fruit. His interest in the obese and over-sized is apparent, and it manifests itself into meticulous, jaw-dropping artwork – often meticulous, jaw-dropping naked fat ladies, hairy vaginas and all.
When asked why he focuses his art on fatness, Botero once said, “I fatten my characters to give them sensuality. I’m not interested in fat people for the sake of fat people.” Botero doesn’t identify himself as a fat activist or a weight acceptance spokesperson or anything like that. He simply, and to put it bluntly, thinks fat adds sex appeal to a character. When he paints fat people, he includes all the “imperfections” associated with pudge – from cellulite to stretch marks to an overall jiggle-fied texture. But these so-called imperfections are never the basis of any of his works. The emphasis is always on the fat itself – the look of it – the softness, the curvature and the warmth one associates with a fat body. And if you look to the photos above, there is undoubtedly a sensuality that accompanies the images. It isn’t simply because naked women are sexy as a general rule. It’s that the way he paints them, the way he paints their fat, is sexy. It’s beautiful. He doesn’t make them look like tubs of unattractive lard, but like stunningly sensual muses. I can imagine a Romeo reciting poetry to one of these women, or an operatic show dedicated in their honor, or an entire philharmonic performance put on for them.
Botero knows what many people fail to realize: fat is sexy. No, this doesn’t mean every fat person is sexy, just as not every skinny person is. When it comes down to it, as I’ve said before, attraction is based on individual preference. What amazes me about Botero, and what makes me respect him immensely, is that he has always been forthcoming about his fascination with fat. He has always openly admitted to finding attraction in rolls and wobbles, even at times when the mass media seemed most obsessed with thinness. He’s never been ashamed or embarrassed, and people have been drawn to this for decades. It’s why he just sold his fat horse sculpture for nearly a million dollars at the New York Gallery. It’s why thousands of people travel to Medellin each year to tour his museum, particularly the fat garden, which is filled with dozens of enormous sculptures (seriously enormous, not just because the subjects are chunky). Botero is a rebel of sorts – he has always challenged the idea that “skinny is better.” He has always said, “f**k it,” to the media and painted exactly what he wants. And he’s been esteemed, admired and famed for it. He’s become a part of history books, artistic books and even coined the style, “Boterismo.” All for the love of fat.