Enlightenment through Art:
the Journey of Orlando Agudelo-Botero
“I believe in humility and work—work on oneself, and the highest, noblest, sternest and most joyous form of such work seems to me to be art.” —Thomas Mann
The music of the great classical masters and a powerful bright light create a vibrating atmosphere in Orlando Agudelo-Botero’s 7,000 square feet Miami studio. On the walls several canvases, previously prepared in white, are highlighted by spotlights while the rest of the studio lies still with hues of history, experience, romance, ideals, passion, intellect and energy. In the center of the space, the new frontier for the artist shines on. The canvases were brought in about a month ago and tonight the time has arrived. Orlando stands with an implement in his hand: a paintbrush, a thick pencil or the tube of paint itself. He then takes a step forward, and in one opening gesture he establishes life on the surface of the canvas: his process of creation begins.
With a swift movement, Orlando’s arm describes a perfect circle. A few more lines suggest the essence of form. To better observe it, the artist steps away from his work. His penetrating gaze does not analyze the painting, but feels the life growing in it. The intense activity has quickened his breathing, which now gets in synch with the invisible rhythm of the incipient image. A smile flashes and he goes back for more.
Moved by an innate power into a quest for higher levels of knowledge, Orlando Agudelo-Botero passionately enters the fields of discovery and explores the possibilities of untainted space. In the privacy of his studio, his entire being is engaged in a profound dialogue with the painting. Nothing is planned, no sketches or studies are made previously. What guides him in his work is his artistic instinct, the only vehicle capable of translating into a visual vocabulary the fabric of his emotions.
While never blueprinted, the creation of a painting is not random either for Orlando Agudelo-Botero. Through the expression of his emotions in the form of art, he constantly explores the intellectual concerns that stimulate his mind. “I paint that which I do not know,” he says, “and in the process, I discover.” The subject of his interests are varied, but they all deal with our identity as human beings and the role we play in this world. And since they change over time, as some questions are answered and new ones raised, he has never remained artistically in a single place for a long time.
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The creation of La Nobleza de los Árboles illustrates how Orlando brings his search for knowledge into his art. As he was driving to the studio after watching the news of senseless violence in Bosnia, the West Bank and his native Colombia, a group of trees on the side of the road caught his attention. He stopped the car to take a better look at them, and noticed how the different varieties grew together in perfect union, forming a lush canopy that extended beyond his sight. Intermingled, beautiful, the trees seemed not to compete for resources and space but to share them instead, cooperating with each other in their individual search for light. This thought, a reflection of Orlando’s ideal of peace and understanding for all humankind, was present in his mind when he arrived to the studio. Considering the ensuing process that resulted in La Nobleza de los Árboles, it is easy to understand why he describes his paintings as “meditations.”
A work on paper, La Nobleza de los Árboles is unique in that its esthetic beauty brings even more power to the message it conveys. A figure bound in the circle of life, almost a planet, floats peacefully in a space that has never seen violence. The serenity of the figure serves as foundation for the trees that reach outward like thoughts, branching into possibilities. Full of life, they grow and thrive honoring their noble nature. “Like all virtues, true nobility is not given to us at birth, but must be purposely developed” says Orlando. “As I created this painting, Nature once again taught me nobility.”
La Nobleza de los Árboles was followed by several paintings that make up a body of work of the same name. All of them depict trees in some form, but they are so different from one another that we might need to look at the signature to be reassured that they are all products of this artist’s sensibilities. The works range from the romantic—such as Freedom of the Cherry Blossoms—to the symbolic—Life’s Unfolding Tree—. The messages they convey are likewise diverse, and yet the link Orlando Agudelo-Botero establishes between integrity, human values, and the preservation of our natural environment is tangible in all of them.
Life’s Unfolding Tree is a depiction of the eternal struggle between good and evil. This time, agents of these forces fight a dramatic duel around a tree, the classic metaphor for life that Orlando Agudelo-Botero has enriched with several of the archetypal figures that are his trademark: the family, the nurturing mother, the holy man and the prosperity fields among others. The tree is surrounded by a light that protects it from the threatening flames of evil. At its base a demon-like creature, powerful but lacking spirit, thrusts his sword against a radiant opponent. The defender, with a bright heart and the strength to parry the attack, brings forth his inner peace.
The inspiration for the tree in the painting came from his brother’s hacienda in the coastal region of Colombia. Orlando and one of his brothers were sitting on the verandah, admiring a sunset and dazzled by the beauty of the trees in a field that stretched in front of them. Suddenly an assortment of peacocks, turkeys, cranes, chickens and other birds rushed up the trunk of a large tree and settled on its branches. On the ground next to the tree, two dogs and two cats napping together completed the scene of perfect harmony that resembled Noah’s Ark.
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Orlando believes in and appreciates the value of a loving environment where children can grow to the fullest of their potential. In his art, he constantly explores the essence of the family, the core of feelings which unites individuals with the strongest of bonds. One of his most recent studies is El Nacimiento de la Infanta María Paula, a celebration of the birth of Orlando’s youngest niece.
When they first learned about the pregnancy, Orlando’s brother and sister-in-law called him to share the happy news. During the months of gestation, they kept him informed of the well-being and development of the baby, and the state of health of the mother. On October 2nd., 1997, at 11 P.M., María Paula was born in Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia. That night, in an act of thanksgiving and in celebration of life, he begun this piece.
The painting centers on the newborn, portrayed as a mature child and guarded by the majestic figure of the Mentor, one of the archetypes in Agudelo-Botero’s visual vocabulary. The child has inherited, from the Mentor, the divine flame of intelligence that will illuminate her path in this world. Ancestral and living members of two families gather in the background to welcome the new life that forever unites their destinies. In the liturgical atmosphere set by the candles that symbolize new life, two saints or angels, representing María Paula’ s parents, kneel lovingly at the sides of the infant.
With El Nacimiento de la Infanta María Paula, Orlando Agudelo-Botero transcends established conventions by focusing attention on the Mentor, a figure that offers a unique and essential nourishment: spiritual guidance and protection. Not necessarily a parent, the Mentor is someone who loves and encourages the child to grow freely and responsibly in his or her own nature.
Like he summons the love of two families in a canvas that celebrates a life just begun, Orlando Agudelo-Botero can invoke with equal genius magic and mystery to honor lives already lived. Uncanny and intimate, Serenata a los Santos draws its power from a fluid composition, the contrast of the flute player’s aura with the dark tones of the ancestral spirits, and especially from the profound expressions of the faces. The painting ventures into the religious and the mythological realms while keeping a strong sense of immediacy.
In the melodies of this respectful serenade, Agudelo-Botero pays an homage to those who are no longer in this world. His list is extensive, ranging from beloved friends and relatives, to the classical composers and great masters who have influenced him, to strangers who have an unfathomable connection with the artist. Some of the mystical reverence he felt as a child in a church with tall stained glass windows has undoubtedly found a way into Serenata a los Santos.
Embodying the rising sun with the wholeness and unity of all which is alive, Orlando Agudelo-Botero returns to the symbol of the circle of life in Sol Naciente. Possibilities arise in each of its four quarters, as seasons brings new colors or age new experiences. In the lower left quarter of the sun, Orlando places the legacy of the past and the history and entrenched pre-Columbian and Latin American traditions. On the right, religions and creeds merge into One. From this collective roots, the individual grows into an original expression of the self and finds the physical dimension. The energy of the body, on the upper right, projects movement and heat. The vast expanse of his or her genius sets in motion the yellow spiral against the red background of the upper left corner. Passion, creativity and unspoken possibilities produce a state of grace in which limits and classifications cease to exist. Everything is possible! Sol Naciente celebrates life, the potential in humankind and its rising from a rich past into a bright new reality.
Already as a child in Colombia, South America, Orlando Agudelo-Botero was deemed an idealist and a dreamer. Although sometimes criticized by those who misunderstood him, he never lost faith in his ideals; he has made of them his reality and, accepting the responsibilities and enjoying the process, he believes in creating life. The constant pursuit for excellence in his art and in his person has brought him realization, happiness, and the desire to participate and contribute in an even greater part to the advancement of humanity.
Understanding that the new generation needs and deserves the most attention, Orlando Agudelo-Botero has directed his efforts toward children. During several museums exhibitions of his works throughout cities in the United States, he invited elementary schools and spent entire afternoons working with students on a bilingual activity booklet he prepared with the help of teachers and specialists in education. For the children, the experience demystified such a solemn institution as a museum and brought them closer to the rewarding world of the arts. They met an artist who talked and listened to them with the same respect afforded to adults, who shared with them experiences from his childhood similar perhaps to the ones they were going through then. Through both his art and his physical presence, Orlando brought a light of hope to the hearts of many youngsters.
Some scenes of the artist’s childhood years in Colombia are captured by Arturo Frausto, editor of Selecta magazine, in the essay that opens MAESTRO • Orlando Agudelo-Botero, an oversized art book of upcoming publication. Its  pages and over 150 illustrations document the past two decades of Orlando’s art, and includes several essays by respected critics and art historians. Of special interest to collectors will be the catalogue raisonné of Orlando Agudelo-Botero’s multiple editions, including recent works created entirely in the atelier for original multiples which the artist established in his studio several years ago.
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Official recognition of Orlando Agudelo-Botero’s achievements first came in 1988, when he received the White House Hispanic Heritage Award for the Visual Arts. This signaled the beginning of the artist’s involvement with the Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation. Since then, he has served on the nominating and selection committees, and most recently designed the stage sets for the Hispanic Heritage Awards ceremony, broadcast live by NBC from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. Working closely with the event’s organizers, Orlando recreated in large scale for the stage several paintings from his Fronteras body of work.
Sharing a common thread and certain visual elements with the works featured in the Kennedy Center ceremony, Fronteras–The Prosperity Fields brings us back to Orlando Agudelo-Botero’s ideals of growth and constant development. The frontier, symbolized by the horizon line, threshold of the next level of knowledge and energy, is the future. The painting greets the person who stands at the entrance of the prosperity fields, while in the wheat-colored skies above four silhouettes, symbols of freedom, dance in defiance of the laws of gravity.
An enlightened act, the journey into the prosperity fields is also a conscious one. Those who choose to undertake it create their own reality and establish their own frontier. Nurturing and exploring their humanity, they lead a life of quality and integrity. For Orlando Agudelo-Botero, this experience comes through painting. “Art is the reflection of that for which we strive and all which we are trying to understand and accomplish as humans,” he says. “It is a window that reveals higher wisdom.”
Such an elevated state graces Fanfare. Like life itself, this painting has a delicate balance between stillness and movement, and one often becomes the other right before the viewer’s eyes, personifying the transformation of ideals into reality. The lines over the eyes parallel the horizon, the artist’s symbol of frontier. From the mind thoughts reach out, projecting infinite love and ultimate wisdom. Like the circle of life, an aura of light emanates from within. The geometric structure of Fanfare suggests balance and a firm foundation that do not contradict the ecstasy of the image, but rather give it a strong sense of reality.
Such is the essence of Orlando Agudelo-Botero’s art. With one foot in reality and the other in creativity he remains an idealist. His paintings show a way to achieve realization: they point to a frontier and make the viewer aware that the responsibility of reaching it lies within him or her. The artist travels his own journey of personal growth when he paints, exploring new fields and rejoicing in the discoveries. The creative process and the new information obtained become forever embodied in the surface of the paper or canvas; in this way, we as viewers can share in the experience. Expressing a sincere, liberated spirit, Orlando Agudelo-Botero’s art empowers the individual with the potential of being a significant part in the development and protection of all which is beautiful and good on this Earth and beyond.