Inspiration: Louise Bourgeois 25 December 1911 – 31 May 2010

Annie Leibovitz’s Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris France, to a gentle and loving mother, Josephine Fauriaux who inspired her life and works. Her father, Louis Bourgeois, was a volatile father and philanderer who had a huge effect on her and became the subject matter of her artistic explorations. Louise originally studied maths and geometry at the Surbonne, she later turned to art after her mothers death which greatly affected her and studied at various art schools. During her years of study at the École des Beaux-Arts she discovered that her creative drive was drawn from painful childhood memories. When you look at her sculpture there is a real array of emotions and lots od story telling involved.

The New York Times said her work “shared a set of repeated themes, centered on the human body and its need for nurture and protection in a frightening world.” So I like to remind myself of the Mapplethorpe image above where she is clearly having fun and of her 35 year marriage to her devoted husband. Even though frail sexuality and infidelity were major factors in her art she explored them with sensitivity to both male and female counterpart. Bourgeois was an avid suporter of gay, lesbian, bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) equality. She said:

“Everyone should have the right to marry. To make a commitment to love someone forever is a beautiful thing.”

Louise Bourgeois is most famous for her giant spider sculptures that she first created in the 1990’s, originally form a pen and ink drawing she did back in 1947. The original, Maman, was over 30ft high and over 33ft wide, with a sac containing 26 marble eggs. The original is now located at the Tate Modern in London, several additional bronzes cast from this piece and can be seen at The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Mori Art Museum, in Tokyo, the Samsung Museum of Modern Art, in Seoul South Korea, Qatar National Convention Center in Doha, Qatar and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park at the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa.

“The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”

I remember seeing a spider in 2000 at the Tate Modern (although at this time it was not the original) and was pretty blown away by its size and the menacing shadows it created, I was later amused to hear about the comfort she drew from these forms. It is great to hear that the Tate Modern have since acquired the original, Maman, by donation from the artist and her secret benefactor. Such an awesome space to show such a giant piece of sculpture. This was the first time I had heard of Louise Bourgeois and soon learnt then that she was very respected within the art world. Apparently Louise held open critique nights at her home in Chelsea New York and presided over the nervous congregation like a queen but always had something positive to say.

Bourgeois‘ simple yet somehow complex textiles have always been interesting to me. I imagine she was comfortable using fabrics because of her young days of work for the family business which centred around textiles and tapestry restoration. Don’t you think they look a lot like spider webs?

Louise Bourgeois died in 2010 of heart failure at the age of 98. It is reported that she continued working up until a week before her death.

What a girl!