Fernando Botero's portraits and sculptures of happy rotund people have delighted millions. But the Colombian painter and sculptor's latest exhibition takes on the subject of Abu Ghraib. After reading news reports of American abuses at the Iraq prison, Botero produced works unlike anything he has done before.
A collection of some 50 paintings and drawings at the Marlborough Gallery in New York depicts prisoners as they are beaten, sexually abused, blindfolded, hooded, bound with ropes, attacked by dogs and forced to wear women's underwear.
After he read Seymour Hersh's account of the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib in The New Yorker, Botero found himself obsessed.
"I was... in shock like everyone else in the world was, the more I read about it," Botero says. "Somehow I was more and more upset with the situation."
For 14 months, Botero worked exclusively on drawings and paintings related to Abu Ghraib. He created about 100 works, some of them large paintings, as well many drawings. About half of the total collection is at the Marlborough Gallery.
Botero says he did not use any of the famous photos of Abu Ghraib for inspiration, but relied only on the texts of news articles.
"Some people think that this is more dramatic than the photos, and perhaps it is true," Botero says. "Because, when you paint, everything that is not necessary, you let out. You go to the essence of... the subject."
Botero hopes his paintings will find a permanent home in a museum in the United States. He has kept ownership of all the paintings. None of them is for sale. In the meantime, the show is at the Marlborough through Nov. 18, then travels to Italy and Spain.