Carmen and Maru
“She is my guardian angel.
She believes in me, takes care of me, guides me
and gives me strength, from Heaven.”

Maru Oriol Icaza was born in Madrid in 1965.

Submerged in the world of art since birth, at 15 years of age she discovers her vocation. She wants to be a sculptor. The family environment, the artistic blood that runs through her veins and the obstinacy inherited from her Basque ancestors are both the origin and the driving force behind this early and tenacious decision.

Granddaughter, daughter and sister of artists, as a child she is surrounded by painting, sculpture, literature and architecture. Her two grandmothers, Carmen Zabálburu and Maru Ybarra, were artists: one a sculptor and the other a painter. Her mother, Carmen Icaza, is a writer. Her father, Miguel de Oriol, is an architect and a pioneer in the admiration for contemporary art in Spain. Two of her four siblings, Carchín and Pedro, are painters, while Miguel is an architect.

Although educated in the traditional Spain of the seventies and eighties, Maru Oriol cannot conceive of any other profession. She is aware of the professional challenges and the personal difficulties which her chosen vocation entails, but she believes strongly in herself and is not someone who takes no for an answer without trying. Her passion is combined with a great deal of energy, a good work ethic and a strong will.

But she is not alone. Her grandmother, Carmen, is there to guide her.

During the last three years of her secondary education, Maru Oriol alternates her studies with art classes in Madrid (Amadeo Roca Academy and Peña Academy). From 1983 to 1988 she studies Fine Arts at the Complutense University in Madrid, specialising in sculpture.

Throughout her professional career, she has been influenced by sculptors such as Constantin Brâncuși, Louise Bourgeois, Jean Arp, Isamu Noguchi, Max Bill, Anish Kapoor, Jorge Oteiza, Eduardo Chillida and Martín Chirino. Certain sculptors of her own generation, such as Juan Asensio, Adrián Carra and Curro Ulzurrun, have also influenced her work.

Maru's atelier
“See that huge block of granite? I would put that in my lounge right now,
just the way it is, if it would fit.”
A pact with the material

Maru feels a great deal of curiosity about experimenting with different types of materials: wood, bronze, clay, marble, basalt, glass and felt. All materials are carefully selected by her, sometimes from outside of Spain. She strives for each final piece to be both elegant and original, risking each piece in a laborious creative process. She is committed to keeping each piece whole and modelling it to enhance its own identity, as though it were a child to be guided and polished while respecting its individuality. This pact between the artist and the material is fundamental to understanding the work of Maru Oriol.

The Material Obeys

The sculptor sketches shapes on the material itself and in the spaces surrounding it, at times intrepid and labyrinthic shapes, at others, soft and sinuous. Intriguing empty spaces allow the passage of the air that each piece breathes. The material succumbs, submits to her soul and her hands, to the chisel, the lathe, the heat, the water, the buffer, the shot blaster, etc. Maru extracts the beauty that only she is able to imagine from what is, for others, but an immense and crude block. The process is difficult and risky. With the sap still running through it, the wood is capricious and resists attempts to shape it. The hard rock breaks apart easily. Glass, liquid and malleable at high temperatures, is unpredictable and fragile when converted back to its solid state.

From her early days as a sculptor, between 1988 and the present, there are various stages in Maru Oriol’s work, each one marked by an attempt to conciliate her overflowing and adventurous creativity with the physical reality of each material. The sculptor brings out its full potential, showing its different states and sculpting shapes and textures that one would have thought almost impossible. The soft, polished marble that invites one to caress it in an unending and sensual run, with no beginning or end. The glass that incomprehensibly envelops and tenderly embraces the subtle black curves of the shiny basalt, like an embryo in its mother’s womb.

Wood: 1988 - 1999

Following her Fine Arts studies, Maru makes her debut in the professional world with wood. Some hundred year-old pines fall down in Layos, province of Toledo, and upon seeing them she is inspired. That period brings back memories of hot summers and nights falling over gently sloping orange and violet mountains. After the pine trees comes the black poplars which, no longer alive, she herself cuts down. She goes to work at the Hilario Woodworking Shop and with its help Maru creates her first pieces.

An extremely artisanal process since the wood, with the sap still running through it, is difficult to shape with the machine. She starts to carve it as soon as it is pulled from the ground, as though trying to restore it to life. Chain saws and electric planes are her first instruments, her first investment, along with an enormous yet unpretentious spirit. The purity and humility of a young woman who, almost unconsciously, begins her journey through the immensities of the art world.

She participates in various group exhibits (1993 and 1995) and has her first individual exhibit at the Gurriarán Gallery in Madrid (1999).

Bronze and Maternity: 1999 - 2002

Following the birth of her first child, Maru feels the need to understand, through her own hands, the mystery of what Mother Nature has created inside her body. The clay takes shape in her hands, the hands of a mother, and is transformed into the face of her son, Miguel. Bronze does the rest to complete finished piece.

A few years later she welcomes a daughter, María.

This is a new stage in Maru’s work which she recalls with infinite tenderness. The bronze busts she is commissioned to create by private individuals are at once a respite and a challenge in her career. On the one hand, it affords the serenity of being able to work and enjoy motherhood as she envisions it, very close to her children, working from her own home studio. On the other hand, it allows her to continue giving free rein to her endless creative capabilities and to assume the risks that are intrinsic to her own personality. The difficulty of depicting not only the physical traits but the very soul of a human being. The battle to translate the perfection of reality with the required subtlety.

Litolaxa I: 2002 -2005

As she continues to grow professionally, the sculptor feels an overwhelming attraction to more laborious materials, the kind which all sculptors wish to feel between their hands and which ensure the perdurance of their work: stone.

Maru Oriol comes face to face with marble. White, black, rose-coloured. A lively encounter which she approaches with caution but also with a great deal of instinct which has existed inside the sculptor all her life: the ability to subdue the stone, dominate its essence, remove its rigidity and give it the intrinsic elasticity that it lacks. These were the first illustrations of Litolaxa I, where stone was made flexible and converted into soft shapes.

Maru makes her first trip to Vietnam in 2003. In search of the ideal material in terms of both cost and quality, she discovers a marble quarry in the mountains of Vietnam. This is a solo trip that will be followed by others in the years to come. It is there that she finds a group of people capable of fearlessly assuming the “impossible” challenges posed by her work, whom she entrusts with the initial treatment of the stone.

In 2005, she has an individual exhibit, Litolaxa I, at the Gurriarán Gallery in Madrid.

Litolaxa II: 2005 - 2008

Like many other artists throughout the history of sculpture, Maru Oriol experiences a natural advancement in the treatment of stone moving towards Mannerism and even approaching figura serpentinata (serpentine figure).

Her work in Vietnam, which arrives in Madrid following a long journey by ship, takes on its ultimate splendour at the hands of the sculptor. Meticulously shaped, polished and refined, as though they were musical instruments, each piece gradually assumes its definitive shape.

They are pieces saturated in movement, in which the subjugation of the material is complete.

This is a time of professional consolidation for Maru. Her work is very well received and in high demand by private collectors.

Litolaxa II, an individual exhibit, is held in 2008 at the Gurriarán Gallery in Madrid. A catalogue on the Litolaxa I and II exhibits is published with text by Óscar Alonso Molina.

Glass and Basalt: 2008 - 2012

The success of her two Litolaxa exhibits paves the way for a new project. Not wanting her art to be converted into mere products, she turns her attention to a different material that has been on her mind for some time: glass.

Maru envisions glass as malleable stone, a material that need not be subjected to fictitious movements since it already possesses that potential. It is a material with a natural ability to be expressive. Heat causes surprising transformations in glass, creating capricious figures compatible with its chaotic principles.

Along with glass comes basalt. The sculptor brings the two materials together and courageously experiments with different procedures. She remembers the difficult and risky decisions she had to make, the anxiety of the uncertainty, the distress of waiting.

Finally, Maru manages to bring the basalt and glass together in a harmonious embrace. The basalt pieces were sculpted at the Granarca Stonework Studio and it was the master glazier, Santiago Hernández Osa, from Villena, who understood that the basalt should be enveloped by the glass, no matter how impossible the idea seemed.

In 2012, she hosts an individual exhibit, Basalt and Glass, at the Gurriarán Gallery in Madrid. The catalogue is introduced by Francisco Calvo Serraller, who has some very kind words to say about Maru’s work. In 2013, she takes part in a group exhibit at the Aína Nowack Gallery in Madrid. That same year, her work is exhibited at the Pinta Contemporary Art Show in London with the Aína Nowack Gallery.

Marble and Felt: 2012 to 2014

The sculptor returns to stone and what she refers to as the “fictitious movement” of the material.

She is guided by the principle of theatrical performance and inspired by the Mannerist sculptures of Bernin, in which the stone loses its forcefulness and the robes seem to be weightless, unaffected by gravity.

Impressive cloaks sculpted in white marble intertwined with the natural shapes and folds of swatches of felt. Fiction and reality. There are very large pieces followed by other smaller ones. Whispers following the initial shrieks.

Through the small textile shapes that fold over one another to form nooks, the sculptor plays with the empty spaces that allow the viewer to discern, if only partially, the mysteries concealed inside each piece.

Maru concludes the strong temperament of this work by giving the marble a rough texture, distancing herself from the polished, shiny finish traditionally associated with this material and which she herself used in the Litolaxa series.


© Maru Oriol 2015 / Content and structure design: Rocío Bolívar / Graphic design and development: R. García San Martín