I am loving this project lately. And I'm only relatively stressed about preparing for two upcoming shows while at the same time trying to keep up with it! ;)
I'm simultaneously reading Runaway Girl: The Artist Louise Bourgeois and Louise Bourgeois by Frances Morris. Runaway Girl is like a high school textbook but really good. It's thorough, informative, and a nice mix of photos, text, quotes, etc.
Louise Bourgeois is an A-Z almanac type book with entries for her art and topics she spoke about. It has quotes from various interviews organized by topic. It is such a uniquely organized book and quite large.
Runaway Girl is giving me a good story/structure while Louise Bourgeois provides the details. And there's lots of Louise online and some fantastic videos. Here's my notes for this week:
1929 Louise attended the University of Paris–Sorbonne. She chose to study mathematics because unlike the drama of her family life, it followed a reliable system of rules.
When Louise's mother died in 1932, she enrolled in the school of Fine Arts and the Académie de la Grande-Chaumiére to study art history and art. Louise's father called artists "parasites" and discouraged her growing curiosity about modern art. He expected Louise to marry and go into the family business so he refused to pay her tuition to art school.
Louise remembered her mother's advice to "make yourself indispensable." Many French artists taught art class to Americans to make extra money. Louise couldn't afford lessons but she could speak English. So as a translator, she was allowed to join the classes.
Louise took a job as a docent, leading tours at the Louvre. For the next 6 years her confidence grew as she taught in the art department at the École des Beaux-Arts and toured Europe with fellow students. She moved out of her father's house and into her own apartment in Paris.
Louise opened a small art gallery to show contemporary prints and drawings on one side of her father's tapestry shop. Although Louis Bourgeois looked down on artists ("parasites") he didn't mind the commercial side of art. One day a young American art historian named Robert Goldwater wandered into the gallery and bought two Picasso prints from her.
In a letter to a friend Louise said, "In between conversations about Surrealism and the latest trends, we got married." She admitted one of her attractions to Robert was that her father didn't approve of him and that "he could put my father in his place." She said, "I met someone who was kind. I felt all was well and I was safe with Robert. And that left me free to begin." In October 1938 they set sail for NYC.
In New York Louise was inspired to make art about "subjects I would have been embarraseed to attempt in Paris." She was "to be free, to be as wild as I wanted."
Louise and Robert bought a small farmhouse in Connecticut for summers and weekends but Louise only worked in the city. She said of NY,
Louise rejected the Surrealists though she adapted their use of of free association and fantastical organic forms.
Louise had convinced herself that she coud not get pregnant. In 1939 she and Robert returned to Paris to adopt an orphan named Michel. However a year later she had a boy, Jean-Louise. And the year after that, another boy, Alain. She explained that after they adopted Michel she was able to conceive ,"the anxiety was gone ... the fear of not having children made me hysterical."
When Louise worried about something it often came up in her art. Natural History, 1944 shows the three stages of a plant referring to a woman's abitlity to grow, be fertile, and reproduce.
Louise wanted chilren and considered having them a "priveilege" but art also "was a privilege given to me and I had to pursue it." 1945-1947, Louise created a series called Femme Maison, all female figures with houses for heads.
This was just after WW2 ended. Women who had kept America running while the men were off fighting were being told it was patriotic to give up their jobs, return to their homes, and have children.
1945 Louise had her first solo show of paintings at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in NYC and exhibited in several group shows. She returned to sculpture, carving from vertical blocks of balsa wood. She carried her pieces from her studio up to the roof where there was more room to work.
Louise Bourgeois did a series of simple abstract figures, 5-6 feet tall called Personages. She displayed them together in a single room, gathering some in groups and others alone. Many art historians call Personages the first installation.
During Louise's first pregnancy, she developed an abnormal fear of falling. Although not diagnosed with basophobia the clinical term for this fear, Louise made it a major theme in her art. Personages are unable to stand on their own, without their bases.
1947-1949 The Blind Leading the Blind is probably Louise's best known early work and she made five variants of this piece. She said it symbolized "old men who drive you over the precipice" and that "Fear holds this group together. They need each other so they won't fall down."
In 1951 Louise's father died. She was devastated. Her relationship with him was complicated. All her life she had vied for his attention, always trying to prove herself to him. After she moved to NY, they often wrote and visited each other. "The children kept the Bourgeois name and not Goldwater. My father wanted descendants. Nobody else had children." With his death, Louise withdrew from the art scene.
For about 10 years after her father's death, Louise was absent from the art scene and her work was virtually ignored. She was known as the wife of Robert Goldwater. During this time she (along with Robert and the kids) visited Lascaux caverns in the south of France and it inspired a new series, Lairs.
She called them hiding places, "a safe place to put a baby," with "an entrance and an exit so you won't be trapped." She created Lairs for many years from plaster, rubber, string, hemp, resin, marble, etc.
Louise said that the houses in her Femme Maison series all had some significance to her so for my piece this week I created a housewife using my own house. I guess that makes this a self portrait.
I'm pleased with how this is coming together as a series, one figure from each artist I've studied. (No Georgia yet, she only had one series of figures and I'm still thinking of how that series relates to this one.)