These are images of the works of a woman who was a practicing artist for over 70 years. In her own words, she spent the first 35 years of that time learning to use the tools.
In her life she was both neglected and abused. She left home at a very young age and lived in a house full of Surrealists in Paris (the house full of surrealists….) As with many artists, she and her fellows traded pieces of their work, so her parlor was a small gallery — and it was there that she met her husband, and sold him his first Picasso out of her collection.
He turned out to be Robert Goldwater, who would be the curator and driving force behind the NY Museum of Modern Art in the 30’s and 40’s.
While learning the tools of her trade, she had 2 sons, was the appropriately socialite wife of an influential NY intellectual, but continued to grow and learn. After the deaths of her father and husband, she experienced a period of deep depression, and then continued painting, drawing, sculpting etc for the rest of her life.
It was her work done in her 70s, 80s, and 90s that is most recognizable. Her pieces were not so much “feminist” as they were the psychological expressions of her own life — as a woman. I suppose that might be said of many feminist artists — but for Bourgeois it was a highly personal, and interior creation turned outward and expressed in art for all the world to see.
Below are many of my favorite images of Bourgeois and her work. Some are formal photographic records of her museum and public pieces, while others are taken directly from her sketchbooks. Watch for the recurring portrait of her mother (the spider) and its pervasive trace on a multitude of other images that come up again and again through her decades. Long locks of hair become spider legs; cages full of objects become the bulbous body of the spider; the repeating “Arch of Hysteria” show up in her paintings, sculptures, and drawings. Disembodied arms, hands, feet, ears, eyes — like the parts of a long dead and desicated spider litter her work like an unswept floor.
It is tempting to put these images in chronological order — or to group them by medium, by subject matter, or by theme. But — when it’s all said and done, they are all the same subject matter — they are all Louise Bourgeois — and they are all in the medium of her own hand.
I am not who I am. I am what I make with my hands. — LB