Orlando Agudelo-Botero’s unselfish belief that art can be used to educate and inspire may not be unique, but he certainly defies the trends of international modernism with his willingness to share his gifts of creativity and personal philosophies.
His efforts to educate are best expressed in the series entitled Equilibrio (1995). The works convey his own perspective on life that sees the universe in a state of balance, where nature’s creations are part of the spirit of harmony. The obligation to maintain this harmony begins at a personal level, involving our physical and mental existence. When Orlando’s life is in perfect balance, he can concentrate in creating works of art that inspire others to seek balance in their own lives. We can observe the idealism in a stylized human figure centered within a golden circle, perfectly maintained, in compositionally and conceptually equilibrium. The perfection of the circle as a symbol of universal harmony, the solar radiance and the never-ending cycles of life appear often in his works. It is an object of contemplation that unites the people, the planet and the universe.
This belief in the unity of the universe, in one voice for all, is paramount in Orlando Agudelo-Botero’s personal philosophy. It is the natural spiritualism that pervades and supersedes the human-made religions of the world. In works that serenade the natural world such as Naturaleza (1988), the artist pays tribute to the beauty and bounty of nature in a style that is especially reminiscent of the batik designs created by the natives of the Pacific Islands, and undoubtedly inspired by his long-time residence in Hawaii. Using his art as a messenger to unite the people of the universe in peace, Orlando Agudelo-Botero hopes to educate, as well as inspire. Children and family are special to his efforts and to his quest for artistic and spiritual satisfaction through his gift of creativity. He feels he has a special obligation to do more with his work than please aesthetic sensitivities; aesthetics are intuitive for him and his style and technique vary constantly as he explores and masters a full range of media, always communicating his message of global understanding. In Quest (1990), a large mixed-media composition that combines abstract and multi-colored heads and figures with words, “education” and “wisdom” are translated into different languages to correspond with the multi-cultural symbolism of the subject, and his genuine and dedicated effort to bring understanding and education to everyone.
For Orlando Agudelo-Botero, education elevates common human existence to the spiritual realm of universal understanding, and it is the responsibility of each person to speak in one voice to achieve harmony, balance and peace.
Family is expressed in works that unite members of a universe of relatives, each of whom bring their own system of values and spiritual and emotional ideologies of togetherness. Combining Judeo-Christian iconography with images reminiscent of Asian philosophies and those of pre-Columbian and primitive ritual masks, Orlando Agudelo-Botero uses love as the quintessential element of bonding.
Love swirls in circular motion to hold brothers and sisters, mother and father, in its embrace in Equilibrio: Amor (1995). In Madonna Mia (1993), a mother gently cradles her child. A painting done in reverence to motherhood, the figures are surrounded by candles symbolizing enlightenment. The mother’s form is voluminous, she is Mother Earth from which all life emerges, and her face is the sweet visage of a Boticelli maiden. The sacred trust of motherhood is again revealed in La Familia VI (1990), painted in a pale blue palette highlighted with golden radiances that give spiritual force and energy to its peaceful composition. The colors are carried from the mother onto the children representing the passing of the genetic code, as well as the traditions passed from one generation to another. Although the colors and facial imagery may change in the series La Familia, the message is the same—maternal love and family togetherness bring security, happiness, education and peace throughout the world. It is the force that inspires harmony and universal equilibrium.
The energy of the force of love is particularly poignant in works that comment directly on contemporary events, especially those which occurred in his homeland of Colombia. On December 6, 1989, a bombing at the National Security Department in Bogotá was a brutal reminder of the horrors of terrorism and its innocent victims. In response to this tragic event and other appalling incidents in Colombia’s recent history, Orlando Agudelo-Botero created Santafé de Bogotá, December 6, 1989 (1989). The painting depicts the protective arm of a maternal figure as she embraces a child shielding him from violence represented by the intruding figure in red on the right. There is a feeling of foreboding in this painting. Done in the colors of the Colombian flag this powerful composition portrays the anguish Colombian mothers feel as their world is rocked by senseless violence.
The plight of the “disappeared” and abandoned children in Colombia and the well-known efforts of mothers to bring attention to their heart-wrenching predicament, inspired Desamparados (1990). The abuse and abandonment of children is a problem not only in Colombia but throughout the so-called civilized world and Orlando Agudelo-Botero confronts the tragedy of the situation with the calm beauty and poignancy of a prayer and plea to action; in homage to the mothers who continue to march quietly and mournfully as they wait for the return of their loved ones. Cradling an immobile child, the mother’s bowed demeanor confronts us as witnesses to a grim reality in which Orlando Agudelo-Botero seems to say that human warmth and bonding are the last and only chances for redemption in an existence fraught with despair.
La Familia transcends all borders, physically and emotionally, and all the styles and categories of art history. Orlando Agudelo-Botero feels free and confident to approach this time-honored subject from his own personal perspective, paying tribute to the past while inventing his own unique methods to express the present. These images of love and family, at once tender and powerful, are at the core of Orlando Agudelo-Botero’s art for that is what is at the center of his soul.
HANDMADE PAPER COMPOSITIONS
Constantly exploring new media and techniques for his personally expressive subjects, Orlando Agudelo-Botero creates handmade paper works as unique as his paintings. Using a special method of his own invention that colors the actual pulp before hand-pressing the material into paper, he is able to produce images that occupy not only the surface, but are actually part of the paper. The colors appear to “blossom” as they become one with the fibers. Details are done with threads, yarns and other objects such as bark or sheet music actually laid into the paper’s construction and edges are torn or left unfinished for an original Surface effect and all-over texture that appears to be as primitive as the images are sophisticated and elegant.
The primitive, hand-made effect enhances a particularly appropriate choice of subjects that pay tribute to ancient civilizations and traditional concepts of universal significance. The diptych, entitled Genders (1985), recalls the elegant profiles on Maya stelae while paying homage to the concepts of duality, balance and harmony that are so prevalent in Orlando Agudelo-Botero’s work. There is a sense of timelessness in their simplicity as the images retreat into the paper’s texture, much as the Maya have retreated into the isolation of the forested jungles of their homeland leaving only a shadow of memories. In Longevidad (1985), the same reverence for the simplicity of ancient markings emerges from the paper and is enhanced by the addition of gold paint which fills the creases of the face, its beauty symbolic of the wisdom of the ages that transcends the physical.
The creativity he exhibits in his handmade paper works, and in all of his art, is inspired by the music that accompanies him throughout the day. With classical overtures lending an air of enchantment to his studio surroundings, Orlando Agudelo-Botero conducts his artistic compositions with the energy of a Maestro. Music motivates the creation of numerous complex abstractions. In Composition in C Minor (1985), Orlando has recreated a row of musicians as if the viewer is catching a glimpse of a section of a symphony. One figure, his arm outstretched, has his hand poised above a keyboard which winds lyrically across the paper. The second figure, seen as a dark profile has a violin perched beneath his chin. Here, Orlando shows his mastery of this medium. The brown of the violin is created with tinted pulp and is thus, a part of the sheet. In like fashion, Orlando has inlaid long fibers to represent the strings of the violin, just as he has placed a page of sheet music into the wet pulp. The name of J. S. Bach on the sheet music gives us a clue to the inspiration of this piece.
The mystical veneration of music and art as intimate associations within the creative process has long inspired painters and was a key element in the rationalization of abstractionism in the early years of this century. Music has a special influence on Orlando Agudelo-Botero who feels deeply that its rhythms and counterpoint harmonies can be translated directly into gradations of color and value; its repetitions and changes of mood and motif into compositional varieties. He uses music to give visual ambiance to his subjects and to contribute to their expressive powers and music’s very complexity greatly enhances the creativity behind the handmade paper composition. Their combination of technical originality and rhythmic design contribute a new facet to his artistic repertoire
RELIGIOUS AND SPIRITUAL WORKS
A quest for archetypal imagery and a desire to create ritual objects that transcend the secular limits of modernism and aesthetic commercialism inspire Orlando Agudelo-Botero to venture into the creation of spiritual works of art. Bridging the gap between the past and the present with paintings that range from those containing obvious religious references to those with the subtle communicative power of universal spirituality, he fearlessly and emotionally professes his own faith. The belief that there is the power of God within each of us which transcends formal religion and carries with it an obligation of love for all humanity inspires him to carry the full burden of religious meaning within the limits of every compositional arrangement.
In his religious and spiritual works, this obligation to explore the infinite reaches of doctrine and symbol that had determined the ritual images of the past is realized through the venerated materials of gold and silver and allusions to the iconography of the Christian and non-Christian worlds. Highlighted by the form of the cross, these works include numerous references to his Catholic upbringing and the Pre-Columbian heritage of the land of his birth, as well as Asian philosophies and mystical allusions to the mysterious idols and symbols present in the images of worship throughout the world, past and present.
The series of high multi-media assemblages on paper entitled Las Cruces, begun in 1987, continues to be part of his artistic repertoire today as new materials and new images appropriate to his present reality inspire their inclusion. Rising like a benediction above the ruins of society’s materialism, the crosses assume different surfaces with the addition of metals, jewels, ordinary objects and letters on varietally textured papers. With the hand and brush of the artist ever present as a distinguishing element that bring the crosses into the rightful realm of human intervention, the works are as provocative as they are beautiful; as elegant as they are rough.
The blessings of a Higher Power in Bendición (1994), extend above the figure of the praying religious to be illuminated in the blue and white light of spiritual inspiration where remnants of ritual artifacts from other cultures glisten in golden splendor. With the deepest respect for their spiritual efficacy and mysterious countenance, Orlando Agudelo-Botero often pays tribute to the unknown rites of people throughout the world who rely on the mask as a key element of spiritual communication. Its commanding presence resides behind the masked countenance of the huge Maestro triptych of 1990 that seems to be a summation of the artist’s religious beliefs. The conductor of the mysterious forces of the universe, the maestro holds the white dove of peace in his embrace as two angels, one black, one white kneel in veneration.
Angels and madonnas are favorite subjects of his spiritual works. The Angel of January, Enero (1990), is one of the images that Orlando Agudelo-Botero creates as a New Year’s offering to his creative spirit every year. It is a guardian angel, a communicator to the heavenly realm, a creature as lovely as it is enigmatic and worshipped throughout the ages. Its winged presence keeps watch over believers and non-believers alike, leads the prayers of children and guides the energies of earthly existence, now and forever. Historia (1992) depicts a stylized, faceless angel moving diagonally across a canvas against a background of human faces, carved in high relief, not unlike primitive stone carvings. The painting illustrates the presence of religion (the faceless angel representing all religions) in the lives of countless people throughout history.
In The Blessed Ones (1996), the latest work of the maestro to be included in this book, Orlando turns his attention to nature and the environment. From a body of work entitled The Nobility of the Trees, this particular piece depicts an ethereal figure in gold gently caressing the top of a tree. In the top portion of the painting the trees are etched in chiaroscuro with charcoal over a gray, wintery background. Below the trees are sprouting foliage and the sky is a spring-like blue. Drawn very subtly into the branches of the trees are faces, human faces. Here Orlando is showing concern for the environment and elevating the importance of nature. In The Blessed Ones, he is telling us that together, man and nature share this planet and that God has also blessed the trees.
For an artist who is very much a part of a contemporary society, this attention to religious subjects defies the trends of modernism. Relying on his own spiritual beliefs and intuitive artistic gifts, Orlando Agudelo-Botero creates the time-honored icons of yesterday with the assurance and confidence of today.
Emotions are defined as any strong feelings, such as joy, hate, sorrow, reverence or love arising out of the subjective subconscious. For an artist who bases his work on expressive and personal responses to the world around him, and uses art to affect responses in others, emotions themselves can be the subjects of paintings. Orlando Agudelo-Botero imparts an emotional character to everything he creates and uses his art as a vehicle to personally address moving and fervent situations, and to inspire others to respond as well. Particularly important to his philosophy about art is the idea of duality — every one of us has a dual nature affected by and interpreted as good and evil, dark and light, positive and negative, yin and yang, etc. We have an emotional side that is intuitive and subjective and a logical side that is objective and analytical. For Orlando Agudelo-Botero, the control of both by the artist is essential to productive creativity. This realization is the source of inspiration in The Artistic Embrace (1986), a small early painting that reverberates with the energy of the love for his craft and the sense of responsibility he feels to fulfill the demands of such a gift by producing art to the fullest of his potential. It is with the multi-media painting on paper Triunfo (1988) that this message of self-realization takes full shape. This large scale piece is a particularly bold work articulating the artist’s exaltation after receiving the White House Hispanic Heritage Award for the Visual Arts in 1988. Following a Rose Garden reception with President Reagan the medal was placed around his neck by Katherine Ortega, Treasurer of the United States. Orlando has recaptured the feeling at that moment…a medallion with a large heart hangs from his neck, his arms crossed in front of him in a loving embrace as he gazes downward in humility. It was following the receipt of this honor that he embarked on a journey of exploration and rededication to create paintings that could communicate his message of universal peace and emotional understanding. Triunfo (1988), is a work charged with the positive energy of happiness and accomplishment. The same jubilance and palette is displayed in Jubilo of the same year and it is this positive energy and direction that inspired the project series entitled Luz which encourages education through art and allowed him to expand his artistic journey by designing an outreach program for children that accompanied the Luz exhibition to Texas, Florida and New York, including the Fine Art Museum of Long Island.
The concept of balance between the dual anchors of human existence that includes education as a vital force and responsibility is constantly present in his paintings. Orlando Agudelo-Botero believes strongly in working for others, providing for others and giving-before-taking as critical aspects of his personal development. Duality, again is the theme of Emoción y Lógica (1988), a mirror-image diptych of eloquent simplicity featuring two profiles that appear to bleed into the surface texture of the paper like an ink-blot test and complement each other despite their differences. In Dueto (1987), humanity’s dual nature is reduced to a minimal form in blue and silver that has unique confrontational power. This is a persistent theme in the maestro’s oeuvre.
The emphasis on subject sensibility, emotion and imagination, as opposed to reason, is based on a profound feeling for the world of both man and nature and all that it represents beyond the merely physical. For Orlando Agudelo-Botero, this feeling affects all of his art.
Dr. Carol Damian
is a professor of art history at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. A specialist in Latin American and Caribbean, she is a noted authority on colonial and contemporary art. Dr. Damian is the Miami correspondent for Art Nexus and Art News, a curator of numerous exhibitions, and an art consultant. Her most recent publication is “The Virgin of the Andes: Art and Ritual in Colonial Cuzco.”
This essay is reprinted for the book,
Maestro: Orlando Agudelo-Botero