“My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama,” she once said. “All my work of the last fifty years, all my subjects, have found their inspiration in my childhood.”
Louise Bourgeois has been an essential figure in modern and contemporary art for almost 80 years. She is best known as an artist who creates large-scale sculptures and art installations inspired by personal memories and experiences.
Bourgeois was born on 25 December 1911 in Paris, France. She was the middle child of three born to Joséphine Fauriaux and Louis Bourgeois.
In 1930, Bourgeois entered the Sorbonne to study mathematics and geometry, subjects she valued for their stability, saying, "I got peace of mind, only through the study of rules nobody could change."
Louise Bourgeois' work demonstrated using the creation of art as an outlet for processing her inner emotions and psychological landscape. Her work dealt mainly with dissecting, exploring, and reacting to the traumatic events from his childhood, including her father's infidelity. Bourgeois' often gloomy and sexually explicit subject matter was unusual for women artists at the turn of the 20th century. Her single-minded devotion to art and mentoring younger artists has lent Bourgeois an international stature that remains vast, as evidenced by her influence on conceptual and installation art evolution.
In 1938, she began showing the works of artists such as Eugen Delacroix, Henry Matisse, and Suzanne Valadon in a space next door to her father's textile gallery, where she met visiting American artist Robert Goldwater as a client. They married and moved to the U.S., where he taught at NYU. They had three sons. The marriage lasted until Goldwater died in 1973.
After the 1940s, Bourgeois began concentrating on sculpture rather than painting and printmaking. In addition, she was immersed in psychoanalysis by the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1964, for an exhibition following a lengthy absence, Bourgeois presented strange organic-shaped plaster sculptures that contrasted dramatically against the totemistic wooden pieces she had exhibited earlier.
Despite her constant probing of the same themes of loneliness, anger, fear and jealousy, Bourgeois continuously explored new avenues, using different media and techniques.
Themes and Ideas
Bourgeois's childhood experience with abandonment and trauma were the main influences behind many of her later works. This theme can be seen in her earliest pieces, including The Spider (1946) and The Double Head (1947). In both works, Bourgeois explores the idea of being abandoned or rejected as a child. She also uses these concepts in her later works, such as The Blood Knot (1969), which depicts a woman tied up and bound by ropes.
Her mother, Josephine, died when Louise Bourgeois was just 22. Her father cheated on her mother with several women. She grew up fearing abandonment. The backdrop of WWI made her traumatic memories of her childhood even more intense.
Bourgeois' parents were very different people. She was raised by her mother, who had a logical and intellectual way of looking at things, whereas her father was an emotional and passionate person. Her later work focused on these opposing forces. Her double-headed sculpture suggests the sense of two very different forces, which are relentlessly attached. Janus Fleuri 1968 consists of two forms joined back to back but pulling away from each other.
Childhood traumas and early-career experiments laid the groundwork for the spiders.
Bourgeois began creating her famous steel spider sculptures in the early 1990s. The Artist had previously attempted arachnid forms through two ink and charcoal drawings, but her sculptures went beyond that. Inspired in part by her early childhood experiences at the tapestry restorers, Bourgeois once explained why she chose the spider as her subject. "I chose the spider because of my mother. She was deliberate, clever, persistent, patient, soothing, rational, dainty, and useful as a spider."
Maman, one of Bourgeois's largest spiders, is housed at Tate Modern in London. Visitors can explore the creature's eight splayed legs and look up at its body, composed of a knot of coiling forms. Beneath its body, the giant spider carries a sack of marbles. It has a head, eyes, mouth, and a pair of antennae. Its body is covered with fine hairs that resemble silk.
Bourgeois's spider sculptures are not only beautiful objects, but they are also powerful symbols of female sexuality. They embody the tension between maternal love and sexual desire.
The Double Head
One of the most iconic images of Bourgeois's career is The Double Head. It is a sculpture of a man and a woman locked in a passionate embrace. The woman's face is turned away from the viewer while the man stares directly at him. The image is often interpreted as representing the Artist herself and her lover, Jean Dubuffet. However, this interpretation is disputed. Some believe that the sculpture depicts Bourgeois's mother and her lover. Others think that the figures represent Bourgeois's mother and father.
In any case, the sculpture is a symbol of the Artist's conflicted feelings toward her family. In her own words, "My mother loved me too much." This sentiment is echoed in the sculpture's title: "She loves me too much" (translated from French).
The Spider Garden
Bourgeois's spider garden is located at the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art. The installation includes five spider sculptures, each with a different theme. The first piece, called Maman, is bronze and measures approximately three feet tall. It represents the Artist's mother. The second sculpture, called Père, is stainless steel and stands about four feet high. It represents the Artist's father. The third sculpture, Le Démon de la Douleur, is bronze, stainless steel, and glass and measures approximately six feet tall. It represents suffering and pain. The fourth sculpture, La Vierge du Bonheur, is stainless steel and glass and measures approximately seven feet tall. It symbolises happiness and joy. The fifth sculpture, L'Amour, is made of bronze. It stands about nine feet tall and represents love.
In the following decades, Bourgeois's work expanded dramatically in scale.
Bourgeois was an artist who had a powerful influence on other female artists. She helped inspire many women artists. Her work included feminism, and her work influenced many women artists.Bourgeois aligned herself with activists who were fighting censorship. She joined the fight against censorship. Her art was censored because it contained nudity.
Mud lane was Bourgeois' home in Staten Island, New York. Her sculpture was an artistic environment rather than a living room. Bourgeois did a retrospective in 1989 at Document 8 in Kassel, Germany, in 1990 at Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany, and in 1992 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. In 1993, when Bourgeois died, she left her house to the city of New York. Her home became a museum called the Dia Center for the Arts.
In 2010, Bourgeois created a work to help promote gay marriage. This work is called I do.
The Artist, in her own words
'I am still a girl trying to understand myself.'
"I have drawn my whole life. My parents were in the tapestry restoration business, and as a young girl, I would draw in the missing parts of the tapestry that needed to be re-woven. My ability to draw made me indispensable to my parents."
"At the dinner table when I was tiny, I would hear people bickering – the father saying something, the mother choosing to defend herself. To escape the bickering, I started modelling the soft bread with my fingers. With the dough of the French bread – sometimes it was still warm – I would make little figures. And I would line them up on the table, and this was really my first sculpture."
On the art world
"Women had to work like slaves in the art world, but many men got to the top through their charm. And it hurt them. To be young and pretty didn't help a woman in the art world because the social scene, and the buying scene, were in the hands of women – women who had money. They wanted male artists who would come alone and be their charming guests. Rothko could be very charming. It was a court. And the Artist buffoons came to the court to entertain, to charm. Now it has changed, now the younger men are in – older women and younger men."
"England is very, very important to me because, in my family, the English could do no wrong. When my father picked a mistress, it was always an English girl: if he made her pregnant, she could be shipped back to England and he would not be held responsible. It never happened, but I've made a lot of work called The English Can Do No Wrong."
"I do not need the musing of the philosophers to tell me what I am doing. It would be more interesting to let me know why I am doing it."
"The feminists took me as a role model, as a mother. It bothers me. I am not interested in being a mother. I am still a girl trying to understand myself."
On modern art
"What modern art means is that you have to keep finding new ways to express yourself, to express the problems, that there are no settled ways, no fixed approach. This is a painful situation, and modern art is about this painful situation of having no absolutely definite way of expressing yourself."
"I came from a family of repairers. The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn't get mad. She weaves and repairs it."
Bourgeois died of heart failure on 31 May 2010 at the Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan.