Marisol self portrait with sculpture

Self Portrait with Sculpture, Marisol, 1965

Sad news from the art world:  Marisol Escobar (who went by the single name “Marisol”) died on April 30, 2016 at the age of 86. Marisol was one of my favorite living sculptors.  She turned away from minimalism and conceptualism (the emotionally and intellectually empty aesthetic forms which monopolize contemporary art) and built her own powerful visual idiom.  By mixing ancient and modern forms (and joyously combining 3 dimensional sculpture with 2 dimensional painting), Marisol created astonishing portrait sculptures which capture the humor, heroism, and conflicted self-identity of America in the sixties and seventies.

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Women and Dog (Marisol, 1964, wood, paint, mixed media)

Although she is loosely affiliated with the Pop movement, Marisol based her sculptures on Pre-Columbian sculptural forms. Her sculptures of people are like a combination of giant ancient sarcophagi, wooden toys, and folk painting.  The rude forms are sometimes grotesque—but they capture true emotional intensity…and real humor (so much a part of life, but so infrequently seen in fine art).

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Dinner Date (Marisol, 1963. wood, paint, mixed media)

Just as three-dimensional objects have many sides: Marisol’s wooden people present different aspects of their identity from different angles—to such a degree that they have multiple faces or too many arms.  This multitudinous bricolage of overlapping identities was second nature to Marisol, a French Venezuelan who moved to Los Angeles as a teen ager. She was deeply involved in the private asceticism of Catholicism, yet she was also overexposed sixties celebrity in New York’s libertine art world.

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“Mi Mama y Yo” (Marisol, 1968, mixed media).

Her works often portray celebrities du jour—and the multitudinous juxtaposed iconography of the portraits gives insight into the strange stagecraft of fame.  In the portrait of John Wayne below, the famous actor has been grafted, centaur-like, to his horse.  Multiple blockish hands reach for multiple fake guns.  Only the solemn politician’s face and the quotidian cowboy boots seem real. The cartoonish formulaic aspects of Hollywood oat operas is combined with larger-than-life western iconography, which is combined with a real man.  The synthesis provides a surprisingly realistic and sympathetic portrait of the actor.

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John Wayne (Marisol, 1963, wood, paint, mixed media)

A famous anecdote about Marisol concerns her taking part in a panel discussion with four famous male artists.  She arrived wearing a white mask which she kept on during the discussion.  Marisol was a famous beauty and the crowd began to chant for her to remove the mask. When the hullabaloo drowned out the conversation, she untied the mask…only to reveal that her face was made up exactly the same way.

 

Her shyness and unease at the performative spectacle that is identity gave her unique ability to discern and portray the multiple faces–greedy, solemn, sly, sad, and laughing aloud–which we all wear.