Although artists in the Western canon have occasionally depicted themselves as children, Botero’s Autorretrato a dieciocho meses borrows from this tradition, and then departs from it. Like Albrecht Dürer, who began to gain notoriety as a skilled draughtsman around age 14, Botero’s drawings began to appear in Medellín’s newspapers in his early teens. In a self-portrait from 1484 (fig. 1), Dürer depicts his thirteen year old self facing outward across the page, keenly observing and gesturing towards something outside our reach. This innovative compositional structure offers a view into the psyche of the subject and activates the space beyond the page. Botero likewise confronts the viewer at an angle, gazing pointedly yet placidly out beyond us and sending the composition out into three dimensional space. However, where Dürer carefully captures his youthful appearance and character in lifelike detail, Botero uses specific iconography and his distinctive representational style to meticulously construct his identity as an artist.
Here Botero employs his signature technique of inflation, often used to satirize or lend levity to a composition, to instead dignify and monumentalize the figure. He renders his youthful face in sweet and skillful detail, complete with chubby cheeks and carefully balanced features. Botero’s use of active brushstrokes and a softly clashing color palette of marigold, taupe and sage creates a subtle but constant tension and betrays the influence of abstract expressionism on his work of this period. The figure holds the palette and paintbrush, identifying himself as an artist not only by trade but by birth. In a final touch of self-fashioning, he clothes himself in a charming matching coat and cap, alluding to his childhood in Medellín and asserting his identity as a Colombian in a moment when he felt most like an outsider. In this way he uses the masters’ tools, old and contemporary, to see and create himself in a new way, uniquely his own.
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