A Lover's Discourse: Issy Wood

A Lover’s Discourse

December 14, 2023–February 25, 2024

Issy Wood in the company of Fernando Botero

Not everybody is willing to admit to loving Fernando Botero. I have enjoyed the Colombian artist’s work for at least 2 of the 3 decades I’ve been alive, since I saw a reproduction of Bather (2004) on a greetings card. There is something excusable about finding pleasure in the paintings as a child: their comic absurdity, their seemingly shameless bastardization of more serious modern art tropes. After all, no weaker currency exists for a child than seriousness. Only much later in my art education would I learn that Botero is not only dismissed but sometimes *despised* by those who make knowing about painting their profession. One cannot be a fan of his oeuvre so much as an apologist for it. There is, of course, no accounting for taste. Nobody should ever have to defend theirs, but I almost believe I had to achieve some level of painterly “influence” myself before my Botero fandom could be sincerely taken out for a spin. That this has coincided with his very recent death is one of those strange twists of chronology that I could not control, lending a seance quality to proceedings. It is impossible to talk about Botero’s paintings without talking about fatness, which is probably why nobody likes to talk about Botero. His bodies are neither Rubenesque nor zaftig, but something else. Since I was raised by medics, I have often speculated on the Body Mass Indexes of the figures he portrays, their eligibility for bariatric surgery et cetera. Compound this with an eating disorder I have grappled with for years, a pathological fear of flesh, of taking up space, and Botero figures bring much of my body dysmorphia and childish horror to life. I think of my grandmother’s yo-yo dieting, watching her ricochet wildly between two types of misery: a Botero and an Egon Schiele one. Her house is where I picked up a penchant for Diet Coke, a beverage maligned (perhaps in a similar way to Botero’s paintings) for being a cop-out. But who wants reality all the time? —Issy Wood

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