Marisol Escobar  

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Marisol Escobar (May 22, 1930 – April 30, 2016), otherwise known simply as Marisol, was a French sculptor of Venezuelan heritage who worked in New York City.



Marisol Escobar studied art at the Jepson Art Institute, École des Beaux-Arts, the Art Students League of New York, at the New School for Social Research and she was a student of artist Hans Hofmann. The pop art culture in the 1960s found Marisol as one of its members, enhancing her recognition and popularity. She concentrated her work on three-dimensional portraits, using inspiration “found in photographs or gleaned from personal memories”.

Her religious beliefs might very well have had a great deal of influence upon her character and tendencies toward the arts. Her father moved Marisol, at age 16, and her brother (Gustavo) to Los Angeles where she began her study in the arts, after World War II and also their mother’s suicide. She began practice in painting and drawing during her teen years. It was during these years she admitted self-inflicted acts of penance upon herself. She walked on her knees until they bled, kept silent for long periods and tied ropes tightly around her waist in emulation of saints and martyrs. Her father reinforced her interest in art and supported Marisol in her decision to continue along its course. Her mother, Josefina, had been a well known patron of the arts in Venezuela. Marisol studied in Paris in 1949, returning to study in New York in 1950.

Artistic beginnings

From 1951 to 1954 she took courses at the New School for Social Research while studying under her most influential mentor, the so-called "dean of Abstract Expressionism", Hans Hofmann. At Hofmann’s schools in Greenwich Village and Provincetown, Massachusetts, Marisol became acquainted with notions of the "push and pull" dynamic: of forcing dichotomies between raw and finished states. During this period, Marisol was introduced to New York's Cedar Tavern, the chief watering hole for many of the leading Abstract Expressionists with whom Marisol became friends, particularly Willem de Kooning.

Early career

It was in 1951, when Marisol discovered pre-Columbian artifacts, that she decided to give up painting and shift her focus to sculpture. Many of her early paintings remain in the hands of friends and are rarely sold, making them difficult to assess. Marisol’s new inclination led her to work with terracotta and wood. She remained primarily self-taught in sculpture, though she studied one clay course in a New York institution. Her first exhibition was in the new Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1958, and it met with success.

However, Marisol found herself plagued with self-doubt, left for five years travel abroad to analyze herself and her work. She successfully freed her doubts and honed her skills. Moving back to New York, she found a tremendous amount of success, culminating in her work finding home in a number of prestigious museums. Marisol sought to envelop herself in the area of abstract expressionism. “The heavy seriousness of this movement prompted Marisol to seek humor in her own work, which was essentially carved and drawn-on self-portraiture."

Pop art

It was in the following decade of the 1960s that Marisol began to be influenced by pop artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. She appeared in two films by Andy Warhol, The Kiss and 13 Most Beautiful Girls. One of her best-known works from this period is The Party, a life-size group installation of figures at the Toledo Museum of Art. All the figures, gathered together in various guises of the social elite, sported Marisol’s face. It is intriguing to note that Marisol dropped her family surname of Escobar in order to divest herself of a patrilineal identity and to "stand out from the crowd."

Marisol drifted through many movements. "'Not Pop, Not Op, It's Marisol!' was the way Grace Glueck titled her article in the New York Times in 1965…" Silence has been an integral part of Marisol’s work and life. She speaks no more than she must and in her work she is said to give silence, "form and weight". She speaks little of her career, once to have stated, "I have always been very fortunate. People like what I do."

In 1966-67, she completed Hugh Hefner, a sculptural portrait of the celebrity magazine publisher. She depicted him with two copies of his trademark smoking pipe, one painted, and the other a real one projecting aggressively from the front of the piece. The sculpture was featured on the March 3, 1967 cover of Time magazine. The work was acquired by Time, and is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution. Curator Wendy Wick Reaves said that Escobar is "always using humor and wit to unsettle us, to take all of our expectations of what a sculptor should be and what a portrait should be and messing with them. So when she's asked why there are two pipes, she says, 'Well, Hugh Hefner has too much of everything.'"

Marisol’s diversity, unique eye and character set her apart from any one school of thought. She has often included portraits of public figures, family members and friends in her sculpture. In one exhibit, “Marisol Escobar's The Kennedys criticized the larger-than-life image of the family” (Walsh, 8). In 1982-1984, her respect for Leonardo da Vinci led her to make a life-sized sculptural representation of herself contemplating her full-sized tableau of The Last Supper. She also did a work based on da Vinci's The Virgin with St. Anne.

Late career

Marisol has received awards including the 1997 Premio Gabriela Mistral from the Organization of American States for her contribution to Inter-American culture.

In 2004, Marisol's work was featured in "MoMA at El Museo", an exhibition of Latin American artists held at the Museum of Modern Art. Marisol's work has attracted increased interest, including a major retrospective in 2014 at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, Tennessee, which also became her first solo show in New York City, at Museo del Barrio.

She last lived in the TriBeCa district of New York City, and was in frail health. She died April 30, 2016 in New York City, aged 85.

See also

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