Singaporeans and residents may be familiar with the iconic “fat pigeon” statue beside UOB Plaza in Raffles Place, but hardly anyone mentions the man behind this work of art – Fernando Botero. We chat with our Travel Designer Andy about his nascent interest in Latin American art, and of particular interest, his fascination with the distinctive “Boterismo” style.

Andy: “I was introduced to Botero early and unexpectedly, as a fresh-eyed tweenager dragged to the banks of the Singapore River by the parents, on a hot Sunday afternoon to cheer on competing dragonboaters. Inexplicably drawn to the statue of this fat bronze bird instead, the name Botero remained stuck in the depths of my prepubescent head then.

Lured by cheap flights from the US, I jumped at the opportunity to visit Colombia during a semester break from college 14 years ago. Known as the Land of Magic Realism, Coffee, Supermodels and, as much as I abhor to associate the country with, Narcotics; Colombia wasn’t synonymous with art. However, Botero was one of my main motivations for wanting to visit this underrated country unfairly portrayed by the media, and trying to look beyond her tarnished reputation. Botero’s exaggerated and voluptuous subjects make me happy, and they never fail to brighten my grayest of days. The maestro insists he does not paint “fat people” but volume and justifies his exaggerated signature style: "An artist is attracted to certain kinds of form without knowing why.” I could not help but concur as his works resonated viscerally and evoke a curious sense of bliss. I devoted hours to his museums in Medellín and Bogotá, admiring his corpulent masterpieces. One of his most instantly recognizable paintings “Mona Lisa, 1978” was a parody of the magnum opus of one of the greatest Old Masters, and thus, so very accessible to even the culture buffoon such as yours truly.

Andy Nicholas

Travel Designer, Aurelius Travel

So enamored was I of Botero’s art, I wanted badly to own a piece of his genius. When the time came for decorating my new home, I purchased an amateur reproduction of his whimsical interpretation of Duccio’s “Madonna and Child” which now takes pride of place at the entrance foyer of my 4-room resale HDB flat. Being Catholic from birth, I was thrusted into the religion, and the original “Madonna and Child” (a mass-produced souvenir from my parents’ European honeymoon) also prominently displayed at the entryway of my previous abode, was always adorned with rosary beads and the week approaching Easter, fresh palm leaves. I wanted a contemporary version of this memory, so Botero’s it naturally was!”

Aurelius Travel: “Certainly one of the most iconic contemporary artists! Are there any other Latin American artists that have left an impression while on your travels?”

Andy: “Contrary to my sartorial choices, I do love color, the brighter the better! The Tz’utujil Mayans from the villages around stunning Lake Atitlan, in the magical country of Guatemala, are known for their striking murals and paintings, and it was in one of those otherwise nondescript little villages in Lake Atitlan where I was acquainted with their brightly-colored depictions of everyday life and Mayan cosmology. Numerous galleries line up the main thoroughfare leading up from the dock, and are usually run by cooperatives made up by several indigenous artists. The painting that called out to me most was called “Selling Fruits at the Market – an Ant’s-Eye View” which was refreshing and eye-catching! Resistance was futile, and hopefully in line with fengshui principles encouraging abundance, it now hangs above on the wall next to my dining table!

Travelers to Mexico and in particular, Oaxaca, would be familiar with the “Alebrijes” – vibrantly-colored papier-mâché sculptures of fantastical or mythical creatures, invented by Pedro Linares, and further popularized by Pixar’s “Coco” premiered in October 2017!  Travelers can now even attend workshops dedicated to creating Alebrijes! On my first trip to Mexico, I had picked up a souvenir which resembled a winged Cheshire Cat in primary colours, only for it to be stolen from my backpack in the hostel!

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