There has long been a tremendous pathos associated with the idea of the circus. The comic and the grotesque, the brashly and the brazenly colourful – all these elements often seem to be the barest of disguises for sadness, if not tragedy. Columbian artist Fernando Botero continues this tradition of ambivalence in a new suite of oil paintings in London.
Botero’s trapeze artists, jugglers, uncicyclists and acrobats are full-figured, monumental, exaggeratedly pneumatic presences, more fantastical than real, gaudily tricked out in brilliantly colourful costumes, who seem to crowd out the pictorial spaces they occupy. They are often seen in full, reckless flight across the canvas, making boldly outflung sculptural shapes in the air. Their very monumentality makes the fact that they engage in such feats all the more remarkable. And yet, in spite of all this vigour, there is a strange and almost pitiful vulnerability about them too. The eyes are unusually small, watchful, and almost fearful. They are always unsmiling. The gaze is always distant, otherwhere. In spite of the occasional presence of an audience - always rendered at some distance, with loosely abstract dibs and dabs of paint – they seem to exist inside a terrible, arrested silence, within a mood of curiously frozen introspection. Their very monumentality helps to make the objects which they use all the more delicate, insubstantial, if not fantastical. A white pierrot strums a stringless ukelele. The stubby strumming hand moves almost mechnically, as if it is going through the motions of making music.
A great trumpeting of shape and colour seems to go hand in hand with an almost fathomless emotional emptiness.