Marisol Escobar (b. 1930), known simply as 'Marisol,' investigates the different layers of human circumstance that affect and construct identity through a wide body of work ranging from assemblage, sculpture to drawing and prints. Standing apart from the crowd, in the liminal space between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, her work and persona maintain a level of inscrutability that lead Gloria Steinem to describe her as a "beautiful enigma" (A Taste for Pop : Pop Art, Gender and Consumer Culture, 1997, p. 195). Drawing from a diversity of influences including: fairy tales, Catholic saints, Pre-Columbian art, as well as artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, she creates works whose deceptive simplicity is undercut by both her wit and the multiple forms of representation she employs.
In 1953, after studying for three years under the "Dean of Abstract Expressionism," Hans Hoffman, Marisol saw an exhibition of Pre-Colombian art and Mexican boxes. Shortly thereafter she quit painting and began constructing small, animated figures of terra cotta, wood and bronze. "It started a kind of rebellion. Everything was so serious I started doing something funny," ("It's not Pop, It's not Op-It's Marisol", New York Times Magazine, March 7, 1965, p. 45) This rebellion led to a revolution in her work, and in 1958 her small animals and family group figurines were shown in her first uptown show at Leo Castelli Gallery. The Bergman's Untitled, a box construction with bronze and plaster figurines, embodies the humor and life of those early works. Reminiscent of the Mexican boxes or shrine for saints, the dark wood doors reveal the curious family groupings within. Untitled evokes a similar engagement with wonder as the boxes of Joseph Cornell; one of her "stable mates," at Eleanor Ward's Stable Gallery along with Rauschenberg and Warhol.
"I can't remember a time when I wasn't drawing," Marisol stated ("It's not Pop, It's not Op-It's Marisol, New York Times Magazine, March 7, 1965, p. 45) and drawing is integral to her practice. The year before the Leo Castelli exhibition, Marisol executed Untitled (1957), a graphite and wax crayon drawing on paper. In this work, the identity of mother is destabilized as Marisol examines femininity as a masquerade. The embellished female forms, inscrutable faces and bright colors suggest that the signifiers of womanliness are masks that can be removed. This is reinforced by the unfinished quality of the drawing, further suggesting these identities are in constructs in process. The repetition of the mothers and their blank, mask- like faces seem to prefigure Marisol's three- dimensional works such as Dinner Date (1963) and the Party (1965-66).
Working in roughly hewn wood, in formal conversation with other modes of representation, is a hallmark of Marisol's most iconic works. The painted wood construction, Untitled, illustrates the dichotomy between the constructed forms and painted representations. Repetitive, organic cut pieces of wood with sharp triangular protrusions are attached to a two-by- four plank of mill-cut wood. They disrupt the flat, rectangular plane of the plank, both towards the viewer and vertically, referencing Rauschenberg's Combines. Marisol further complicates the structural form by applying brightly colored paint. The painting is done simply, in broad strokes, but depicts identifiable features, such as faces and hands, effectively anthropomorphizing the cut wood. The bright, nave painting belies a violent undercurrent as the triangular shapes penetrate the space of the organic forms. This interplay between form and subject, between identifiable object and representation is where the enigmatic Marisol speaks most eloquently.
Marisol claimed, "I was born an artist. Afterwards, I had to explain to everyone just what that meant," ("A Bold and Incisive Way of Portraying Movers and Shakers." Smithsonian 14 Feb. 1984 p. 16) and for her that meant carving her own way with wit and humor, and establishing her own means of expression independent yet fully conversant with other art movements.