San Francisco Art@Site Marisol Escobar Portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe

Marisol Escobar


Portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe

Sidney Walter Park
Website:, Kathryn Vercillo:
Although it would be really fascinating if Georgia O’Keeffe had two pet bears, as it looks like she does in this sculpture, those 'bears' are actually her two Chow Chow dogs. Thankfully, it’s also frequently called Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe with Dogs, which not only helps us see what the pets are supposed to be but also differentiates it from another very similar Marisol Escobar sculpture: Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe with Antelope.
O’Keeffe fell in love with the Chow breed in the 1950s. She ended up having six different Chow dogs throughout her life, affectionately calling them her 'Little People.' It’s said that the breed embodied the same best traits as the artist: loyalty, independence, and a protective nature. As to the latter, C.S. Merrill shares in great detail how fiercely the artist and dogs protected one another, describing them as having an astounding rapport with one another. In fact, O’Keeffe was a member of the Chow Chow Club. In 1978 she went to the parent club in Texas. Once there, she met breeder and kennel owner Samuel Draper. Although the artist was impressed by the creative work in his home, it was his Chow Chows that she really fawned over.
A decade earlier, Life magazine had profiled O’Keeffe’s work in an article that featured several images of her with her Chow Chows. The time frame is poignant because it was right around the same time that Escobar was gaining fame as an artist. She was actually listed in Life as well, in their 'Red-Hot Hundred' roundup in 1962 and the following year the magazine commissioned a piece from her. In the next few years, she had hugely successful shows at MoMA, Sidney Janis Gallery, the Venice Biennale, and the Documenta exhibition in Germany. Plus, Gloria Steinem wrote about her for Glamour, Grace Glueck wrote about her for The New York Times, and Andy Warhol featured her in two of his films. It was a hot time for both artists (Escobar as well as O’Keeffe).
Unfortunately, after her fame faded, for a long time Escobar was known more for the celebrities she was around than for her own work. In part, she took advantage of this, by working on these mixed media portrait sculptures, which were frequently portraits of the famous people that she knew. However, it would be dismissive to look at her portraits of O’Keeffe and think that’s all there is to it. O’Keeffe was a mentor to Escobar. Like the older artist and her Chows, Escobar was described as independent. Despite spending time in the celebrity spotlight, she also loved to travel and spend time alone. This sculptural work was created based on a photograph that she took of O’Keeffe when she was visiting her.
Escobar had a traumatic childhood. Her mother died by suicide when she was only eleven years old. Escobar made a vow not to speak, and she kept that vow for well over a decade. Even in her later, more famous years, she was notably quiet, often answering questions with one-word responses. O’Keeffe was 90 years old when she sat for the portrait; one can guess that she played the role of a mother figure in Escobar's life. In fact, the portrait comes from a series that Escobar did of elderly people that she admired. It’s almost as though she wanted to closely examine how to age as an artist.