Maria Sol Escobar (b. May 22, 1930), otherwise known simply as Marisol, was born in Paris to Venezuelan parents. During her life Marisol’s mother (Josefina Escobar) was a well-known patron of the arts in Venezuela. Marisol studied in Paris, France in 1949, returning to study in New York in 1950.
From 1951 to 1954 she took courses at the New School for Social Research with her most influential mentor, Hans Hofmann. 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. Her first show, with Leo Castelli in 1958, met with wide success.
Marisol then developed an interest in Mexican, Pre-Columbian and American folk art and turned her attention to sculpture. In her early work she fashioned small, animated figurines out of bronze, terracotta and wood, often placing these pieces in compartmentalized, glass-fronted boxes. In 1961 she began to incorporate drawing, painting, and objets trouvés into complex, life-size figure arrangements. Cast fragments of her own body and images of her face frequently appear in her works from this decade, many of which address the position of women in modern society. Women and Dog (1964; New York, Whitney) depicts a group of fashionable middle-class housewives parading in public wearing blank, masklike expressions; other works depict farm women and socialites in similarly constrained poses.
Marisol’s images of contemporary culture, at once deadpan and satirical in tone, were produced in the context of Pop art; the personal, enigmatic, often primitive elements of her work, however, set it apart from the mainstream of the movement. In the early 1970s she carved small, exotic fishes out of mahogany, with her own face on their polished, colorful bodies, and produced a series of prints and drawings with erotic, often violent overtones. In the 1980s she returned to large-scale figural assemblages, creating a series of portrait ‘homages’ to well-known contemporary artists and personalities.
Marisol herself speaks little of her career. She claims, “I was born an artist. Afterwards, I had to explain to everyone just what that meant.” She lives and works in New York, in Tribeca.
Source: Nancy Ring, Grove Art Online, © 2009 Oxford University Press
Pictured: Family, 1962, collection Museum of Modern Art, New York.