Glenn Engman



Celebrating twenty five years as a professional artist, Orlando Agudelo-Botero continues along his own path of artistic exploration and personal growth.  Never a painter to find a comfortable niche, and remain there, Orlando has, for more than two decades, followed a process of researching, refining and exploring which has led him to the discovery of new media and imagery and a heightened expression as an artist.  His newest body of work reflects the Latin American painter’s ongoing concern for the human condition and his search for mankind’s place in the universe.  Mining two very powerful influences from his South American heritage:  prehispanic Colombian imagery and iconography and his Roman Catholic education and upbringing, this most recent series of paintings balances between man’s realm here on earth, and a more heavenly one.

“My work is a vehicle for my own self-examination,” says the painter.  “I struggle in each and every piece of art to discover something about humanity and to attempt to communicate it.”  This self-examination to which Orlando refers has led him in the past two years on excursions to the ancient sites of Chichen Itza and Tulun on the Yucatan Peninsula and the “lost city” of San Agustin in southern Colombia.  His new works, especially LA BUSQUEDA, HISTORIA and ILUMINACION  recall the tradition of these ancient cultures where creative energies were joined to the forces of ritual and religion. HISTORIA 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 LA BUSQUEDA and ILUMINACION Orlando has drawn, with an economy of style, stark and dramatic portraits of man and spirit.  In LA BUSQUEDA, we see the back of an unclothed man created in chiaroscuro with charcoal over gesso.  His arms are outstretched as if reaching for something and in the deep blue of the infinite we see lightly etched into the paint when it was wet, the face of God.  Yet, it is barely visible, merely an impulse, making the dramatic outstretched arms of humanity all the more poignant.  

In ILUMINACION, the dramatically drawn figure of heroic proportions is an angel.  By his stance and position, with his massive arms folded across his chest he appears to be standing guard.  Yet, in his clenched hands he is holding lit candles, as if to guide us and throw light on the mysteries of life and the universe.  

In each of these three paintings, Orlando’s forms exist as the embodiment of some spiritual energy; sometimes fleeting and dreamlike, other times strong and immutable.  By giving form to the infinite he gives voice to humanity’s greatest quest, its search for a higher power, thus establishing our own true place in the universe.  “We are all part of the same system, sharing one large neighborhood,” says Orlando.  “We are all just tribes and we all have some very positive things to contribute to the whole.  Too much time is spent on conflict and underming the human condition which is both destructive and distracting because it takes away from our larger mission here on earth which is to evolve and advance the human species.”  

These sentiments provide much of the philosophical grounding for this body of work.  UNA VOZ, perhaps the simplest, yet most profound painting in the series depicts a largescale (84″ x 84″) rendition of the earth against the deep blue background of space.  The landmasses are clearly visible with no dividing lines (which are manmade) between countries.  UNA VOZ (ONE VOICE) is not a lesson on geography, but on global unity.  Likewise, Orlando Agudelo-Botero has subtly created five angel-like figures which are moving harmoniously around the sphere, illustrating that it is the laws of God that are at work here, not the laws of man.

Orlando has also used the earth, an artistic  metaphor for humanity, in another work, titled, CONTEMPLACION.  In this canvas, two kneeling figures, a male and female, contemplate the earth which is suspended between them.  Their arms are extended in a near caress of the planet.  Overhead, another sphere or heavenly body with a lightly etched face, watches it all.  “It’s time for humanity to look at ourselves,” says Orlando, “our directions and our priorities.  I believe we have the power to change — individually  and as a society, but first we must consider what it is that we want… and the ramifications  of those decisions.”

CONTEMPLACION has the uncanny power to draw the viewer’s attention inward, for this Orlando believes, is where change begins.  Created in soft, earth tones the piece exudes tranquility, as an aura of serenity radiates from the heavenly  body above.  Here, Orlando seems to be saying that the process of change need not be radical and tumultuous, only enlightened.

In the final works in this series Orlando continues his use of a muted palette.  When asked about this change, he responded:  “For many years I have been known for my use of primary colors — and they were very energetic and youthful.  My change of palette reflects some personal growth on my part.  This new body of work is very grounded, more sober, perhaps, and these colors reflect the more serious nature of my work.”

Orlando sustains his artistic and philosophical dialogue with pieces such as INDIGENA and HUMANO which link us with ancient man.  INDIGENA (INDIGENOUS) is clearly a representation of prehispanic culture and HUMANO is a profoundly simple expression of our humanness.  It depicts no time, no culture, no nationality, no gender.  Distilled to it’s very essence, it is a timeless and universal symbol of humankind.  “As human beings, we are more alike than we are different,” says Orlando.  

Orlando creates the connecting thread, which runs through this body of work in CONCIENCIA.  Once again he uses a simple watercolor sketch of the human face, but this time the figure is imbued with a humility born of knowledge.  And across the extended profile of the image, printed in gold, block-like letters, Orlando shares that knowledge:  “You express your wholeness in health, in joy, in friendship, in devotion, in art, in responding, in sharing, in loving.  Expressing your wholeness is expressing your essence.”

With that message Orlando Agudelo-Botero has closed the circle.  He has extended the community of man to include not only those of us who inhabit the planet now, but to those who came before us, also.  He has encouraged us to think on a globol level, and just as he begins to widen our field of vision, he begins to focus our energies as he reminds us that change comes from within.  

This is Orlando Agudelo-Botero’s most ambitious body of work, to date.  He has given form to his inner-most insights and feelings with manifestations that are not meant to be merely visually pleasing, but to engage the viewer, to inspire and provoke and provide a dialogue regarding humanity’s evolution.  Even while his paintings endeavor to map the unknown there is an apparent security in the art, as well as the artist, that can only come from the expression of something that is authentic and genuine.   

Glenn Engman