New York in the 1950s and de Kooning

Born in Paris in 1930 to Venezuelan parents, Marisol Escobar spent much of her childhood traveling Europe with her family and living alternately between Caracas and the United States. From an early age, Marisol aspired to be an artist. During high school in Los Angeles she enrolled in night classes at the Jepson School studying painting with Howard Warschaw and in 1949 she moved to Paris to attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The traditional curriculum in Paris did not appeal to Marisol and after only one year, she returned to the United States.

Portrait of French-born artist Marisol Escobar poses with some of her carved wooded sculptures. New York, New York, 1958. (Photo by Walter Sanders/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Marisol moved to New York, the city was the setting for a number of relationships, events and introductions that would have a profound influence on her artistic production. In 1951, she visited a gallery featuring a show of Pre-Columbian art, an experience that led to her great appreciation for works by untrained artists and to her use of found objects in her work. Marisol also became friends with titans from the Abstract Expressionist movement; she took painting classes from Hans Hofmann and could be found at Cedar Tavern along with Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning as well as many writers of the beat generation. It was during the 1950s that Marisol shifted her interest from two-dimensional painting to sculpture, became known simply as Marisol, and had her first solo show at Leo Castelli Gallery (1958).

Marisol explains her shift towards sculpture, "started as a kind of rebellion. Everything was so serious - I started to do something funny so that I would become happier - and it worked." Marisol’s oeuvre is comprised of works that are at once solemn and humorous. Though her work aligns with a Pop sensibility, it defies strict categorization drawing from multiple schools of thought. From her earliest works, small figural forms in terracotta, bronze, and wood to her later large-scale assembled portraits, her art speaks to her diverse character and style. Marisol once said: "Whatever the artist makes is always a kind of self-portrait."

Between 1977 and 1981 Marisol created a series of portrait sculptures featuring various art world personalities; the collection, Artists and Artistes, first exhibited at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York in 1981. Her subjects were the people she admired most, from renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe and Marcel Duchamp to choreographer Martha Graham, writer William Burroughs and even her father.

Portrait of artist Willem de Kooning, East Hampton, New York, 1985. (Photo by Chris Felver/Getty Images)

This present lot, a sculpture of Willem de Kooning, was among the important figures Marisol included in Artists and Artistes. After meeting and a brief affair in 1954, de Kooning remained an influential figure in Marisol’s life. This portrait expressively captures de Kooning’s likeness as well as her reverence for the great Abstract Expressionist. She depicts de Kooning enthroned in his favorite chair with his hands, cast from his own, resting on its arms with an extra hand on his knee. His face, roughly carved in wood, conveys experience and familiarity. A deeply personal homage, Marisol’s de Kooning captures his spirit and conveys a sense of timelessness.