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  1. Visual Arts

Fernando Botero is the subject of a documentary at the Sunscreen Film Festival

Fernando Botero is probably the world's most famous living artist. At 87, he still works in his studio every day, living in Monaco and Pietrasanta, Italy. The Colombian-born artist has lived and exhibited all over the world, including a seminal exhibit of his monumental sculptures along the Champs-Elysees in Paris. The exaggerated, round figures in his paintings and sculptures are instantly recognizable as his signature style.

He is the subject of a documentary, Botero, screened as part of the Sunscreen Film Festival on Sunday. The film is based in part on the biography The Art of Fernando Botero by his son Juan Carlos Botero, who will be at the screening. We caught up with him to discuss his father and the worldwide popularity of his artwork.

Everyone who knows the name Botero instantly thinks of the "fat people." But it was interesting to learn in the film that he's not making a comment about physicality. Can you explain why he exaggerates his figures?

If you look at the history of art, every single artist has distorted reality in one way or another to communicate a particular idea of beauty. In Botero's opinion, exaltation of volume is his greatest obsession because he believes that volume communicates sensuality and inspires the desire of touch.

People all over the world adore his work. Why do you think his artwork has such universal appeal?

I believe that Botero's importance is the creation of a style that is original and easy to recognize. And the tradition of his popularity is that his art communicates beauty, aesthetic delight, and it celebrates life. There's a fundamental need for people to nourish themselves with beauty. People do need to find that in art and that's been a constant in art from the cave paintings all the way to the middle of the 20th century. Botero's art is based on his knowledge of the history of art. His intention in all of his artworks is not only to portray the reality that he witnessed as a young man in Colombia, but also to establish a bridge with the great artistic choices of the past, especially the Renaissance.

Speaking of recognizable style, a critic was dismissive of that in the documentary. But it seems like that would be a positive attribute. What do you think?

It is positive. Style is the sum collection of the ideas. The totality of the ideas the artist has regarding beauty, composition, line, harmony, color, subject matter, all the ideas that make up a work of art are present in each one of his creations. Each one of his works is a declaration of principles.

How did Botero expose you to art and teach you about it?

During our childhood with him, he had no money at all. But what he couldn't offer us in terms of material goods he would offer in imagination. So the memories that my brother and sister and I share were these fantastical stories that he would tell us. When we got older, he would take us to the museum and explain to us the difference between a great work and a masterpiece. I'm huge lover of art. I go to a museum whenever I can, which I'm convinced I inherited from him.

In the film, Botero comes across as very content. He credits having a passion for his happiness. What life lessons have you learned from him?

A number of attributes of his personality have been evident over the years. For example, generosity is an essential act that every citizen in his or her capacity should offer and try to give back to society as much as he can. Also discipline, that artwork is something you do with discipline and dedication and devotion to your values. Another thing, which I think is fundamental, is to remain true to your convictions, even if they seem unpopular. That dedication to his ideas, that strength of incredible character has been an example to us all.

Contact Maggie Duffy at mduffy@tampabay.com. Follow @maggiedalexis.

If you go

Botero will be screened at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday at the AMC Sundial 20, 151 Second Ave. N, St. Petersburg. A Q and A with Juan Carolos Botero will follow. Single tickets $10, all day pass $40. sunscreenfilmfestival.com.

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