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Summary of Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois' life was a prolific demonstration of utilizing the creation of art as a tool for processing one's inner emotionality and psychological landscape. Working across a wide variety of mediums that included painting, drawing, and sculpture, her work dealt largely in dissecting, exploring, and reacting to the traumatic events from her own childhood that included her father's infidelity. Bourgeois' often brooding and sexually explicit subject matter and her presentation of the female viewpoint in regards to suppression, feminism, and sensuality alongside a distinct focus on three-dimensional form were rare for women artists at the time. Her single-minded devotion to expression, both as an artist and as a mentor to young artists, lent Bourgeois an international importance that remains vast, manifested most strongly through her influence on the development of conceptual and Installation Art.
- Bourgeois wholly autobiographical artwork is renowned for its highly personal thematic content involving the unconscious, sexual desire, jealousy, betrayal, fear, anxiety, loneliness, and the body. These themes draw on events in her childhood for which she considered making art a therapeutic or cathartic process.
- Bourgeois transformed her experiences into a highly personal visual language through the use of mythological and archetypal imagery, adopting objects such as spirals, spiders, cages, medical tools, and sewn appendages to symbolize the feminine psyche, beauty, and psychological pain.
- The artist likened her work, and its myriad installation settings, as "cells" - or containers of memory, which both froze a recollection or feeling in time while also evoking the emotions that said memories produced.
- Through the use of abstract form and a wide variety of media, Bourgeois dealt with notions of universal balance, playfully juxtaposing materials conventionally considered male or female. She would, for example, use rough or hard materials most strongly associated with masculinity to sculpt soft biomorphic forms suggestive of femininity.
Biography of Louise Bourgeois
Bourgeois' turbulent and traumatic experiences are interconnected with her later artistic explorations - as she once said: "I became an artist - to find a mode of survival."
Important Art by Louise Bourgeois
The Femme Maison series of paintings are a poignant exploration of female identity, worked on in conjunction with Bourgeois' transition into motherhood and American life. The title literally means "housewife" and all of the works contain the common elements of parts of a woman's nude body merged with architectural forms. The result is a Surrealist-worthy collage that was years ahead of the second wave of feminism, hinting at the struggles women would face in balancing work and home life.
This series dealt with the dramatic changes in Bourgeois private life in the early 1940s: marriage and domesticity, living in a foreign country, and mothering three children. Bourgeois also struggled to live up to her idealized memory of her own mother. These works suggest that she felt both trapped and exposed by the domestic responsibilities that consumed her life as she wrestled with finding her artistic voice.
In her own words, Bourgeois said the Femme Maison "does not know that she is half naked, and she does not know that she is trying to hide. That is to say, she is totally self-defeating because she shows herself at the very moment that she thinks she is hiding."
The Blind Leading the Blind is an early sculpture constructed from pointed wooden planks attached to a flat beam. The whole represents her complicated feelings about both her parents and her own experience of parenthood as both a delicate and sometimes confining act of balance. The artist likened this piece to a table, inspired by early memories of spending time underneath one herself, from which she could only spy her parents legs as they moved throughout a room. Moreover, she recalls this memory as an unpleasant one, as she felt alienated from her parents and sought refuge under furniture.
The work is part of Bourgeois' Personnages series, made between 1945 and 1955. The series includes approximately 80 standing sculptures touching on the autobiographical themes that occupied Bourgeois throughout her career such as homesickness, latent trauma over familial betrayal, and a desire to connect with loved ones. Each piece in the series resembled or recalled a person known to the artist. These abstract totemic figures were shown with no bases and were arranged in clusters that for Bourgeois referenced a reconstruction of her peopled past.
Another key piece from Bourgeois' Personnages series of abstracted elements used as personal totems, Femme Volage is a fractured assemblage made up of stacked wooden forms on a central rod that resembles a needle or spindle, tools that likely reference her mother's work as a weaver. This work also shows her early interest in the spiral form, which would become a common motif.
The work was created in Bourgeois' rooftop studio in New York City shortly after she had moved there from France. It was part of a series of sculptures that helped her process her feelings of being a foreigner in a strange city and her personal issues that surrounded juggling life as a mother, wife, and artist.
The totem-like structures were also significant contributions to the avant-garde of the late 1940s, of which primitive forms were created as Surrealist symbols of the unconscious, also seen in the work of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko among others.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Louise Bourgeois
- Fantastic Reality: Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern ArtBy Mignon Nixon
- Louise Bourgeois Destruction of the Father / Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews, 1923-1997By Louise Bourgeois
- Louise BourgeoisOur PickBy Frances Morris, Marie-Laure Bernadac
- Louise BourgeoisOur PickBy Robert Storr, Paulo Herkenhoff
- Louise Bourgeois: Aller-RetourBy Louise Bourgeois, Gerald Matt
- Louise Bourgeois: The Fabric WorksBy Germano Celant
- Louise Bourgeois's 'Cells': Looking at Bourgeois through Irigaray's Gesturing Towards the MotherBy Katy Deepwell / n.paradoxa / May 1997
- Louise Bourgeois RetrospectiveBy Kelly Rand / Arts & Entertainment / February 26, 2009
- Sculptor Louise Bourgeois: A year of events celebrating her life and workBy Paul Stuart / World Socialist Web Site / January 4, 2009
- Louise Bourgeois, Influential Sculptor, Dies at 98Our PickBy Holland Cotter / The New York Times / May 31, 2010
- Louise Bourgeois obituaryBy Michael McNay / The Guardian / May 31, 2010