Magazine article The Spectator

Sculpture: Marisol Escobar, First Lady of Pop Art

Magazine article The Spectator

Sculpture: Marisol Escobar, First Lady of Pop Art

Article excerpt

In 1961 the Venezuelan-American sculptor Marisol Escobar 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 where the alphas of contemporary American art met. Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and their ilk gathered there to take part in discussions, listen to talks, and escape their families. Abstract Expressionism was the house style and in its early days women, homosexuals and communists were all barred from membership.

The Club was male, cliquey, exclusive and drenched in its own importance so when Marisol, as she was always known, 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 a clamour 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.

At this point, Marisol was shifting away from the expressionist painting that had initially brought her attention, instead developing an individual approach to sculpture. Within a few years she was producing exhibitions that had people queuing in their thousands to get in, and had been anointed as the First Lady of Pop Art. Andy Warhol, to whom she was close, called her 'the first girl artist with glamour', which was patronising nonsense. Marisol certainly had glamour -- she was beautiful, composed and intelligent -- but, more importantly, she had artistic chops.

She made sculptural assemblages from wood and found materials that can be compared to Robert Rauschenberg in their structural language. But, unlike Rauschenberg's, Marisol's work was rooted in the identity of the individual.

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. Her version of LBJ, made in 1967, is just the right side of caricature, but conveys a disdain for the man, rendered here as a literal blockhead with his exaggerated features drawn on to a lump of wood poised above a coffin-like body.

'LBJ' was one of many political portraits, but she also tackled classic pop art iconography in her most popular work. …

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