French-born American sculptor Louise Bourgeois died 31 May 2010 in New York, at the age of 98 (photo:Annie Leibovitz)
Based in Manhattan from 1938, Bourgeois acquired her reputation late in life and kept working to the end. She began her long career in the 1930s with a single-minded and powerful drive for creative expression. She stated,” 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 with modern art it is about this painful situation, that of having no definite way of expressing yourself.”
She met just about every major 20th century Artist including, Vuillard, Bonnard, Matisse and Léger, who told her to stop painting and start sculpting. Duchamp, Miró, Brancusi and Giacometti, and the younger artists who came to her regular, argumentative Sunday salons were all part of her wide circle of friends and colleagues. During these gatherings she often reacted passionately against popular theories, which helped reinforce her own artistic direction.
To understand Bourgeois, her style and manner as an artist, must take on board the way she approached her subjects and transformed them into working sculptures. Although she had to wait until she was in late middle age to get the wider recognition she deserved, she was allowed to grow during the ensuing years and produce some of the most staggering works of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Whatever the materials, and whether in sculpture, installation, drawing, printmaking and writing her work transcended the many fads and fashions present in her lifetime. Bourgeois was more interested in life than in having a career, and it was this attitude that allowed her to remain true to her work. Her life mostly meant being an artist and making work, and nursing her childhood grievances especially towards her father, which fuelled her art. “You’ve gotta watch that woman,” Artist Bruce Nauman once said, and we still must through the legacy of her work.
‘I am still a girl trying to understand myself’: Bourgeois often remarked, sculptures in wood, steel, stone and cast rubber, often organic in form and sexually explicit, emotionally aggressive yet witty, covered many stylistic bases. From the first to last they shared a set of repeated themes, centered on the human body and its need for nurture and protection in a frightening world.
“Women had to work like slaves in the art world, but a lot of 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, was 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.” On feminism she stated;” 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.”
Bourgeois art is deep and full of references and meanings. It exudes maturity and inventiveness. Her art is varied and consistent. Her objects and environments, which she called Cells, were also containers of feelings. Her most popular works were probably her big spiders these capture your fears and leave you in wonderment. Bourgeois can be summed up as a free spirit someone who was allowed to do what she pleased, never allowing herself to wallow in mediocrity. Bourgeois suffered a heart attack and died two years off her centenary. PC Robinson ArtLyst 2010
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