Disclaimer: The information provided in this episode comes from multiple sources and is not my scientific studies or discoveries. All authors and sources are credited at the end of this article. Thank you!
Welcome to HerArt podcast, a project for art lovers, especially art created by women. In our third episode, we will talk about Marisol ESCOBAR — the forgotten star of pop art. My name is Nata Andreev and I am going to tell you seven curious facts that you didn’t know about the artist who fused Pop Art imagery and folk art in assemblages and sculptures that, together with her mysterious, Garboesque persona, made her one of the most compelling artists on the New York scene in the 1960s.
Curious Fact #1
María Sol Escobar, who adopted Marisol as her name when she began exhibiting in New York, was born in 1930 to wealthy Venezuelan parents in Paris. Her mother committed suicide when Marisol was 11 and she vowed never to speak again, a decision she persisted with until her twenties by which time, she later said, ‘silence had become such a habit that I really had nothing to say to anybody’. In 1946, her father moved the family to Los Angeles, and three years later, at 19 years old Marisol was determined to pursue a life in art, so she went to study in Paris. In the 1950s she moved to New York, where she continued her education at a series of art schools.
Curious Fact #2
At 31 years old Marisol made a startling appearance at the New York artists’ group known as the Club that would set the tone for her unconventional career. The Club was male, exclusive, and drenched in its own importance so when Marisol arrived to participate in a discussion wearing a white mask over her face she caused consternation and even anger. As the discussion began, there was an uproar demanding that she remove the mask. A legion of offended men shouted and stamped their feet. ‘Take off that goddam mask!’ they insisted and, eventually, Marisol obliged. Underneath, her own face was painted white, just like the mask.
Curious Fact #3
Skilled in drawing and woodcarving, her nuanced pieces had wit and, at times, offered a withering critique. While she is renowned for her work with family groupings and mother and child motifs, she also made pointed commentaries on political figures in her sculptural portraits. In 1962, for example, she made a cast of her face with a full Coca-Cola bottle rammed down the mouth and called it ‘Love’. Nevertheless, the American public and critics lapped up the work and by the end of the decade, Marisol was firmly established as an art star.
Curious Fact #4
Her sculptures were given a room to themselves in a group survey, called “Americans 1963,” at MoMA. And her follow-up solo show in 1964 was overrun. Viewers “came at the rate of two thousand a day,” noted Lawrence Campbell in Cosmopolitan. Among them were “not only everyone who counts in the art world, but the kind of people one does not expect to find in an art gallery — mothers with five children, for example.” The following year, Marisol was the subject of a profile by Gloria Steinem in Glamour magazine, and another by Grace Glueck, in The New York Times. Three thousand people stood in line to get into Marisol’s 1966 show at New York’s Sidney Janis Gallery. And two years later, her work was included in the Venice Biennale. She was one of only four women among the 150 artists at the influential Documenta exhibition of 1968, in Kassel, West Germany.
Curious Fact #5
When she met Andy Warhol, he immediately fell under her spell. He put her in two of his films, “Kiss” and “Thirteen Most Beautiful Women.” They were seen at all the parties together. She took him and a friend to a party filled with Abstract Expressionists, almost all of whom detested Warhol and everything he represented. Mark Rothko — whose personality was in every way the opposite of Warhol’s — took the hostess aside. “How could you let them in?” he asked. “But what can I do?” she replied. “They came with Marisol.” Her reputation as a “party girl” in the magazines and the very nature of her name (Marisol, “sea and sun”) were instrumental in making her an icon.
Curious Fact #6
At the peak of her career in 1968, with the world convulsing violently, Marisol embarked on an extensive period of foreign travel. She went to Asia, Tahiti, the Caribbean, and South America. After five years, she returned to work, the art scene had changed, and she no longer fit in. She turned to more mythic, folk-oriented work, carving mahogany fishes, and explored a more private world in semi-surreal works on paper, filled with violent imagery, bearing titles like “Lick the Tire of My Bicycle” and “I Hate You Creep and Your Fetus.”
Curious Fact #7
“In the 60s, the men did not feel threatened by me,” Marisol said later in life. “They thought I was cute and spooky, but they didn’t take my art so seriously.” She approached the gender inequities of the art world not with feminist passion, but with a calculated silence, using mystery and aloofness to affirm her position as a serious artist. In 2016 Marisol died from pneumonia in obscurity, forgotten and overlooked. Perhaps she preferred it that way. When asked in 1964 how she would like her work to be seen by critics and the public, she seemed puzzled by the question. “I don’t care what they think,” she said.
Thank you so much for listening to the fifth episode of season three, of HerArt podcast — a project for art lovers, especially art created by women. If you want to follow more of what I do, find me on Facebook and Instagram. And don’t forget to tune in next month, when I am going to tell you about Pan YULIANG — one of the first female graduates of the Shanghai Art Academy. This is the fourth episode I am recording during COVID-19. I hope everyone is safe and takes care of themselves and their loved ones. See you later!