Curro Romero, a bullfighter, became a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Wasn’t that going very far? Is a bullfighter an artist?
Curro Romero was. He fought bulls the way a great dancer dances or a great painter paints: struggling to reach some ideal in his head. He happened to do that in front of crowds but you’d have thought he was working alone in his room.
Curro Romero in the Puerto de Santa María ring (public domain photo by Fselcimajo )
For years he was both an idol and a joke. His admirers said he was the greatest bullfighter of modern times; and his detractors said he was a charlatan—a fraud who lived off a fake reputation.
How could they say that? Was he good or not?
He was usually bad—scandalously bad. While fighting his bull in the ring he would suddenly become afraid and run away or only flap his cape at the bull from a save distance. Many times he refused to kill the bull, which is the most dangerous part of the fight, and it had to be led out of the ring with the help of oxen to be done away with in the corrals. Curro was booed and cursed and rained on with seat cushions and of course fined heavily for breaking the rules that required a bullfighter to kill his animal. This kind of performance of his became proverbial. The police often had to protect him from angry spectators when he left the ring. He hung his head in real contrition—you could see he had disappointed himself too—the real artist.
Few had seen the rare times when Curro was great. His fans said when he “uncorked the little bottle of essences” and you were there, it was like going to heaven. There was nothing like it in this world. If you saw it, you knew you had seen something angelic. Curro hypnotized with his slow capework and the dignity of his poise. The bull charged as though he too were trying with all his might to reach perfection, to “get it right”.
Bullfighters traditionally practice their passes for hours at home in their livingroom. They hold the muleta and concentrate. They call the imaginary bull. They watch it come as in a dream and lead it on with the muleta, so slowly only a dream bull would pass without stopping. When the real bull in the ring did stop and jerk his horns at Curro, it woke him from his dream of perfection and scared him. But when that real bull was “noble”—that is, charged straight and with bull-like determination—and gave Curro the chance to show what was in his soul, he did something that made the crowds at first solemn and then delirious. As he walked out of the ring amid garlands and kisses and oaths of affection and worship, he looked better than when he was led out by the police, but not much better. You saw he was going over the faena in his mind and maybe had discovered a flaw.