It is as encouraging as it is astounding to me, to think that Fernando Botero, infamously known and grown rich for painting a universe of happy but innocuous fat people has given the world such strong, terrible and important images as those we saw hanging tonight in room 190 at the Doe Library at UC Berkeley.
I would say not since Guernica.
But Botero’s work hits my heart and stomach harder than Picasso’s cool system of black and white lines. I love Pablo, make no mistake, but we’ve moved on now, and Fernando Botero shows us images of blood and shit and pain and the dogs of war in those human and animal shapes and colors we see and feel and fear and know, truly know as... figurative reality.
Or something close.
Botero grabs those images back from the camera and the video screen, pulls them back from the monitor, back from unopened YouTube news clips and he puts them back up on the wall, that wall in the gallery, the museum, the study, the living room; Botero puts them back in the book where page after page of reproduction get turned while Mamma screams into the pillow for her child not quite dead, still not talking.
Botero’s 43 paintings and drawings should, and probably will be seen by the whole world, but so will the oral, written and photographic evidence of torture be seen and read; the practices of a misguided nation, our own, falsely at war, and unforgivably lost in desperate cruelty at a common prison outside Baghdad called Abu Ghraib.
I would say not since Francisco Goya.
The knowledgeable, the institutions and the market seem to want a home for Botero’s paintings. So of course does Fernando Botero. I think at least one or two should be obtained by whoever collects these things and they should be owned by the United States of America and hung in the White House.