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In the late 1960s, the art world was abuzz with Marisol. 

Her exhibitions drew crowds. Her sculptures graced magazine covers. TV profiles only added to her fame. She received a flurry of new commissions. 

The Venezuelan American artist, born María Sol Escobar, created abstract and surreal sculptures of people from wood and casts of her own body. Learn about her inspiration, introspection, and ingenuity.

Marisol, Portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe with Dogs, 1977, graphite and oil on wood, Collection Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Bequest of Marisol, 2016 (2021:44a-i), Photo: Brenda Bieger, Buffalo AKG Art Museum


1. Marisol made life-size sculptures.


Marisol became a star of the art world in the late 1950s and ’60s for her large-scale painted and carved wood sculptures of people. Photographs inspired her groupings of figures, such as The Family. Deeply influenced by Leonardo da Vinci, she even made her own version of The Last Supper

She also sculpted portraits of political and public figures including the British royal family, US President John F. Kennedy’s family, and French President Charles de Gaulle. 

Marisol also made sculptures of artists she knew or admired, including Willem de Kooning, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, and Louise Nevelson. While visiting Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico, Marisol took photographs of the painter, then in her 90s. Marisol carefully carved a portrait of O’Keeffe seated on a tree stump and holding a long stick. Her two beloved chow chow dogs are at her side.

Portrait of artist Marisol Escobar amid a group of her sculptures, New York, New York, April 14, 1966. (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/MUUS Collection via Getty Images)

2. Marisol was famous in her lifetime.

Marisol’s 1966 solo exhibition at New York gallery Sidney Janis drew thousands. By then she had already shown her work in museums such as The Museum of Modern Art. She also received major commissions—in 1967 her sculpture of Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner was featured on the cover of TIME magazine. Today, one of her sculptures is in the US Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

As with many women artists, as Marisol’s fame grew, so did the focus on her appearance and background. She was short with her words in interviews, and critics called her evasive. In reality, Marisol wasn’t too concerned about what others thought of her. She preferred to let her art speak for itself.

In 1968 Marisol was selected to represent Venezuela at the prestigious Venice Biennale, which many considered the height of the contemporary art scene. But instead of building on this momentum, Marisol set it aside after the show and traveled around Asia and Europe for several years.

Marisol, Untitled, c. 1963/1968c. 1963/1968

Marisol, Untitled, c. 1963/1968, mixed media, Gift of Adeline and Sidney R. Yates, 1999.3.1

3. Marisol became her own favorite model.

Late one night in the 1960s, Marisol was working in her studio when she got the urge to make a portrait. But no one was around to serve as a model. She made a cast of her own face, something she would go on to do over and over again. 

She wasn’t just using her own face for the sake of convenience, though—it was also a way to better understand herself. Marisol explained, “There comes a point when you start asking, ‘Who am I?’ I was trying to find out through my sculpture. That’s why I made all those masks . . . Every time I would take a cast of my face, it came out different. You have a million faces . . . it’s spooky.” 

Marisol, Andy, 1962–63, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Image Credit: © Acquavella LLC 1962-63, © 2021 Estate of Marisol/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

4. Marisol was part of the pop art movement. Or was she?

Marisol has often been associated with pop art, a movement of artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, who used popular culture as a source of inspiration. She was friends with Warhol and was often seen with him at the infamous parties at his studio, The Factory. Warhol even cast Marisol in several of his films, calling her “the first girl artist with glamour.”

But while she liked pop art, Marisol wasn’t sure her sculptures fit in. Asked in a 1968 interview whether she would describe herself as a pop artist, she simply replied, “I don't know—maybe it’s better not to.”

Marisol, [Untitled], c. 1955–1957, terracotta, Collection Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Bequest of Marisol, 2016 (2023:27), Photo: Brenda Bieger, Buffalo AKG Art Museum

5. Pre-Columbian art inspired Marisol to turn to sculpture—without any training.

Marisol shifted from painting to sculpture in 1954, in large part due to seeing pre-Columbian art. She started with small clay figures, eventually moving on to wood. She had no training in the medium, but she was resourceful and unafraid. “If I wanted to know how to do something, I asked someone how to do it. . . Sometimes I telephoned other sculptors or a factory.”

Marisol, Styria Studio, Lorillard Company, Womens Equality, 19751975

Marisol, Styria Studio, Lorillard Company, Womens Equality, 1975, color lithograph on wove paper, Corcoran Collection (Gift of Lorillard Tobacco Company), 2015.19.2592

6. Marisol drew throughout her life.

Marisol first started drawing as a child. Although she went on to work mostly in sculpture, she never left drawing completely behind. The artist continued to sketch vivid landscapes and make surreal drawings. She turned many of those into lithograph prints.

In other drawings, she depicted the human figure. Just like her sculptures, they often place carefully detailed portraits of her subjects’ faces on abstracted bodies. 

Thickly painted, rectangular vertical and horizontal slabs in intense buttercup and mango yellow, shamrock and lime green, burnt orange, raspberry pink, and charcoal gray are layered in this nearly square, abstract composition. In the top half, shapes are smaller, closer together, and separated by strokes of moss green. In the bottom half, the shapes are larger and seem to float against a vivid orange background. Smaller swipes and dabs of cotton candy pink, plum purple, indigo blue, sea glass green, scarlet red, rust brown, and bright white are interspersed around the slabs. The artist signed and dated the painting in green paint in the lower right corner, “hans hofmann 57.”

Hans Hofmann, Autumn Gold, 1957, oil on canvas, Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection, 1996.81.4

7. Marisol studied with Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Hans Hofmann.

Marisol studied at the Art Students League of New York under Yasuo Kuniyoshi. The Japanese American artist’s distinctive style influenced Marisol’s early paintings. 

Abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann also had a profound impact. Studying with the German American painter at his school, Marisol absorbed his approach to a figure’s geometry and his concept of the “push and pull” between different planes of a painting. 

Marisol became friends with Hofmann’s other students Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline and their circle of abstract expressionists. While she was interested in their ideas, she didn’t adopt their artistic styles. Marisol always did her own thing.

Learn about more Latinx artists

September 15, 2023