Interview with Marisol Escobar conducted by Greg Svitil by phone on April 2, 2001
Greg: How are you feeling?
Marisol: I’m alright. I went out and was back, and maybe it was too late, last night.
Greg: I tried at about 10pm but didn’t want to keep trying because I thought you had gone to bed and didn’t want to disrupt your sleep.
Marisol: Oh no, I stay up all night. I just went to the restaurant, (and returned) at 10:30 or so.
Greg: What restaurant?
Marisol: It’s a Japanese restaurant. I like Japanese food.
Greg: And you also have a Japanese dog.
Marisol: I like Japan in general.
Greg: They put on a great catalogue for your show in 1989.
Marisol: It is so careful, the way they pack things, and they invited me. I really like them.
Greg: They were the ones that printed that drawing, Lick the Tire of My Bicycle, and all these wonderful drawings that you never really see in other exhibitions.
Marisol: Nobody wants to show them.
Greg: Why is that?
Marisol: I don’t know. I asked the gallery here if they wanted to show them, and they said ‘no.’
Greg: I was at Marlborough last week, and the people who work there are all waiting for your next show.
Marisol: I asked him in between shows, “can I show my drawings?”, and he said “no.” I don’t think he knows the drawings.
Marisol: Does he know them?
Greg: I don’t know. Maybe he just knows the sculptures.
Marisol: I don’t think they know the drawings. They were shown at the Sidney Janis Gallery, and people didn’t like them. They didn’t buy one.
Greg: And what about at the New York Cultural Center?
Marisol: Oh, those were prints. They were not for sale.
Greg: Do you think people expect your work to be woodblock caricature?
Marisol: I have no idea. Collectors are not that bad.
Greg: Do you think it’s more the directors?
Marisol: I really have no idea. I think they would like them now. Maybe they looked too strange before. Too personal or something.
Greg: Do you remember your drawing “I Hate You”?
Greg: Is that something you look at and still like the way that it looks?
Marisol: Oh yeah. Somebody came from Citi Bank, because I have a friend who takes care of the arts, and I showed them one of those drawings and they said they can’t hang it in a bank.
Greg: It’s very intense.
Marisol: You know, I’m watching the thing about China. I’m so worried. Is it too expensive for you, or can I hear it at the same time?
Greg: Oh yeah, you can hear it at the same time.
Marisol: Oh, fine.
Greg: That’s fine.
Marisol: It’s so dangerous. They want to start a war with China. It’s so horrible. Bush is a creep.
Greg: Everything he says, he does the opposite.
Marisol: He was lying. They sent warships over to China. He’s ruining the economy of the world, that man, already so fast.
Greg: How can he do so much in such a little time?
Marisol: Yes, I know (laughs)
Greg: When I was 13 years old, I used to hate George Bush, Sr.
Marisol: Oh yes, so did I.
Greg: But now I think he’s better than the one we have now.
Marisol: But they work together.
Greg: I know you spent a lot of time scuba diving, and then you came back and you started to sculpt the fish.
Marisol: Yes, but that was just a little bit of work I did.
Greg: What was it about them that made you want to put your face onto their bodies?
Marisol: Scuba diving, looking at the fish so many times.
Greg: Did you identify with the fish?
Marisol: Oh yes, they become like dogs. There are reefs where you see the same fish, and they get to know you. You can pet them and everything.
Greg: Can you be around them and communicate through your body language?
Marisol: Oh yes. If you bring some food for them. They don’t know what’s going on. They sent three or four warships. China has the atom bomb. They’re on a death trip.
Greg: Why would they have a spy plane into China to begin with?
Marisol: Yes, that’s completely illegal.
Greg: When you first showed the fish, a lot of writers—
Marisol: Nobody liked them.
Greg: They gave you such a hard time. Did that surprise you?
Greg: And how did you feel about that?
Marisol: I’m not so interested in art critics.
Greg: Or the public?
Marisol: No, the public I’m interested in. A lot of people like them, actually.
Greg: In the early 70’s, you said you’d started working on yourself more.
Marisol: I don’t remember. Also, those people write whatever they feel like writing, because they don’t have much to say.
Greg: I read one review where the man wanted to analyze your pieces psychologically, and I thought he was putting too much of himself into it. Do you think they put too much of themselves into it?
Marisol: No. These city people, they have no idea what’s under the water. Most people are afraid to be underwater.
Greg: Maybe somebody who was another diver would see a piece like that and be very moved.
Marisol: Oh yes, they would like it a lot.
Greg: On one hand, you almost stopped working with the large blocks.
Marisol: Oh no, that wasn’t very long, because I took a trip to Asia for one year. And then it took me a while to start working again.
Greg: Did you miss the carpentry?
Marisol: When I was traveling?
Greg: Or even when you were doing mostly prints.
Marisol: No. Not all of them are prints. Those I do. It’s the drawings.
Greg: Do you remember “Veil”?
Marisol: Oh yes. I did a lot of smaller pieces.
Greg: It seems to me to be a parody of the art world. It seems like you’re bored with critics and dealers.
Marisol: Oh, that doesn’t have anything to do with my work. I don’t pay attention to those people. It was mainly because I had been in Asia for a year, and kind of turned my head around. It was hard to come back here, because Asia is so beautiful. And it’s so different from here. Because all the work I do here is about this society, and I kind of forgot about it.
Greg: Were you able to be more in your own world when you got back?
Marisol: What was I doing? I don’t know. I don’t think it works like that. It’s not so preconceived. I also was working with Martha Graham. I did three or four sets. And Louis Falco. I got involved with dances, sets for dancers.
Greg: What was it like working with Martha Graham?
Marisol: Oh, it was a very special experience.
Greg: Did you learn from her?
Marisol: No, I can’t tell you that. I learned about the stage. That was in the 70’s, I think, when I did those sets. I never think about the past, actually. It’s like another person. I don’t really know what I was thinking, I remember, the way I started those drawings, was that I was in Paris, in a hotel room, and I was scared, so I laid down on a piece of paper and I traced myself.
Greg: Is that what eventually turning into “Diptych”?
Marisol: No, it was one. I don’t remember which one. It was so that I could feel myself. I was feeling strange in that city.
Greg: Did tracing yourself give you more of a perspective?
Marisol: Just about that moment. And then I liked the idea, and I made many.
Greg: There are lots of them.
Marisol: Also, I’ve seen so many drawings in my life, so people try to copy other people’s lines. Either Picasso, or de Kooning, do you know what I mean? And when you trace yourself, it’s nothing. It’s nobody’s lines. It’s because you don’t think about the history of art. And then the crayons. I would have maybe 60 different colors, and I would pick up the colors by chance.
Greg: So you’re leaving less, at this point, to your intuition?
Greg: Do you feel like you got closer to yourself in that way?
Marisol: No. It was just an experiment. I did many because it was fun, with all those colors.
Greg: How do you feel about them now?
Marisol: I like them, those drawings. But then I started getting more involved with the sculpture again, and that’s a lot of work. I didn’t feel like doing drawings.
Greg: I guess it’s hard to be a carpenter and then be working with small paper and pencil.
Marisol: Oh, but some of them are huge, those drawings.
Greg: Some of them are life-size. When you started to make the self-portraits, you started to exaggerate soem of the physical features. You have yourself fangs, exposed gumlines, and it looks like your eyes are sealed shut. It’s like a mask.
Marisol: They took those men from the American airplane. They’re hostages.
Greg: I wonder what’s going to happen to them.
Marisol: There were also all the student protests in those days, and that upset me. The Vietnam War and the protests.
Greg: I guess some of what you saw at a protest in Washingon, DC was aprt of what made you decide to go to Asia. Is that true?
Marisol: No. Oh, maybe. But I always wanted to go there.
Greg: You said that “White Dreams” was a metaphor for the hopes of black people.
Marisol: Oh, yes. That is what it is about.
Greg: Is it a self-portrait as well?
Marisol: I don’t remember what it looks like.
Greg: It’s about 12” across, has a wooden background, and is a white mask of your face.
Marisol: Is it a flower there?
Greg: Yes, in the teeth. Was it a big turning point for you?
Marisol: Oh, no. It was when I was in Paris, tracing myself.
Greg: In some of them you give yourself very sharp teeth.
Marisol: Yeah. I also did some monuments in South America. Simon Bolivar, and then some people from that witchcraft.
Greg: How do you feel about the Simon Bolivar statue?
Marisol: That’s one of my best, of the outdoor pieces.
Greg: My favorite is the mariners memorial in Battery Park. It’s moving how it involves the tide and the level of the water.
Marisol: I must have spent some time there making those. I did those there in the factory.
Greg: Did they take longer than your wooden pieces?
Marisol: No, it’s faster. It isn’t as if I gave up sculpture because I was making drawings. I was just making so many different things.
Greg: Are they more personal to you?
Marisol: No, because my regular sculpture is personal to me. Even if it’s somebody else, it’s personal. I was in a studio that was inconvenient, in Soho, in those days.
Greg: Was it far from your house?
Marisol: No, it’s not far, from here. Soho, and this is Tribeca, it’s just a few blocks. It was a different thing I got into, living there. This man talked me into buying that loft, and there was a gallery there on the first floor, and people were doing all these performances in those days.
Greg: Were you inspired by the performances?
Greg: How long did you live at that loft?
Marisol: I stayed there maybe three or four years, and then I moved here to this area, and then it was fine and so I did my sculptures again.
Greg: It seems that the mediums with which you’re working are often dictated by where you are and where you’re living.
Marisol: Yeah. It was nice because I got involved with the theater, drawing, smaller things, prints. It’s not as if I wasn’t doing anything.
Greg: You’re legendary for working hard. It shocked some people. They would see one picture in a magazine, and think that you were spending all of your time at leisure.
Marisol: Oh yes. I could go home and change my clothes in ten minutes, and look like somebody else. I remember, one woman saw me in the street, with my work clothes, and said “What happened to you?”
Marisol: (laughs) More like that than a party girl.
Greg: But that was a myth, wasn’t it?
Marisol: Yeah. It was so fun in those days. Everybody went to these huge parties with strange clothes. It was a huge group of people.
Greg: It’s as if your sculptures came from nowhere.
Marisol: Oh yes (laughs). I would do that, work and then change my clothes. I think I timed myself. Five or ten minutes, and look like a party woman.
Greg: It takes me 45 minutes to go anywhere.
Marisol: (laughs) Or to change your state of mind.
Greg: That I can change from one minute to the next.
Marisol: It was fun in New York, because it was a group of anything, like artists, society people, musicians, everything together in a big room. Now it has separated again. It became more businesslike.
Greg: Is that why they won’t show your drawings?
Marisol: I think they would like them now. The young people have been doing things that are like a scandal. It’s not so shocking anymore, the drawings.
Greg: They want your work to be playful?
Marisol: I thought the color was playful. Rainbows.
Greg: But some are just black on paper.
Marisol: That’s so the color comes out more. In the back of my mind, you know those corny people that paint on top of black? What’s their material? Black velvet. Like regular people have those in their houses, like the lower middle class.
Greg: Black velvet?
Marisol: Paintings on black velvet. I guess they don’t show those anymore. There used to be a show in the Village every year, and there were many of those. It brings out the color a lot on black, at least with those crayons. I think nobody drew on black paper anyway. It was a good idea. I think there’s going to be a big recession in the whole world. I went to the gallery today, to Marlborough, and on 57th Street everything is for rent or out of business (laughs). There’s a huge building for sale.
Greg: And what about now? What have you been working on recently?
Marisol: You know, I don’t like to talk about what I’m doing. I will talk it away.
Greg: Until the show.
Marisol: Then we can talk about it.
Greg: To me, your 70’s work is not that different from your 60’s work.
Marisol: To me, neither. It couldn’t be that a person changes and becomes another person.
Greg: Was there parts of yourself that you could express through drawings but not through sculptures, or vice-versa?
Marisol: I don’t know. I guess I didn’t do it. I like the sculptures more than the drawings.
Greg: What about the wall pieces? Did you like those those?
Marisol: Oh yes, that was easy.
Greg: Do you like those pieces?
Marisol: Yeah. If I did something that I didn’t like, I wouldn’t show it.
Greg: And what about now?
Marisol: Yes, I like them. Everything I do is not so thought-out. It just happens. It just comes out that way because of what I was, or who knows. I don’t want to think about it, or it won’t happen anymore.