Handing it out: The Art of Louise Bourgeois

louise bourgeois, I am not what I am, I am what I do with my hands.

 Amantine Brodeur

I am what I do with my hands . . .

Louise Bourgeois Signature
Expose a    Contradiction,  that

is All you Need

Biomorphic Anatomy;

the archetypal principal of Myth & Psyche

There are few artists whose work and legacy speak to something beyond categorical agendas to reflect something deeply organic about Being. During the decade of deep discontent, before Feminism knew its own voice and as sexual identity raged across the spheres of private lives and public expression, Louise Bourgeois was lending her hand to unearthing the soil in which we’re each embedded: Self and NonSelf – that paradox of resilience and neurotic self-undermining difficulty.

Not dissimilar to many aspects of artistic Self, Louise Bourgeois immersed her artistry in overt subtleties and in so doing, her expansive tapestry of work still peels back layers of our own reflections and deflections. From marble to textiles, her exploration of medium and materials lives deep in the interior of, what some may be tempted to simplistically deconstruct, as Form fighting function, or some other composite, that is equally reductive.

Her work, spanning over much of a century, resolutely defies these imposed constraints.  The scope of her artistic vision unflinchingly explores the anatomy of intimate monumentality: Her open-ended questioning of ‘Self’ ; its nature and its artifice.


Her perceptive visual discourse into ‘opposites’, tears them open to reveal the domestic ambivalence, for its implicit benign nurturing platitude and its undercurrent of threat. Regardless of her complex iconography, it is something we all intuitively recognise and visually understand from individual experience.  These likewise, whisper of all those minor transgressions we have tasted first hand and which have woven into the fabric of our sense of self, integral to and divisive from the notion and substance of ‘family’.

Perusing her work is to step into a visceral anatomical masterclass of what it feels like to be meaningfully and irrelevantly human.


In all the fables we create about everyday predation and victimology: Louise Bourgeois was unafraid to humorously explore the sensual intimacy of the hunt, and what it says of our nature. Autobiographical and fractured, imaginative and surreal, her art is an invitation to the imagination to thread itself through the eye of her needle into an exploration of human-ess, across a biomorphic landscape of physical innuendo and sensual, even sexual disruption. And no less treacherous for it beginning and ending in the ‘home’.



“Arch of Hysteria” (1993), bronze, polished patina hung together with hanging works forming part of ‘Suspension’ installation. (Cheim & Reid Gallery New York)

Longing, desire, isolation, wit, languor, ambiguity, death, anger, blood and even flirtation with revenge, each and together, as themes and motifs, distill the uneven keel of ordinary battlefields raging behind closed doors. Throughout its diversity and honed by a singularity of keen female vision, Bourgeois, in her essential artistic expression, does not revel in tokenism, she exposes it, nor is there ‘art for art’s sake’; even less, the extremis posturing of post-modernist anti-art constructivism. She delves with the kind of intellectual alacrity and microscopic curiosity for revealing our cellular dispositions.

Candid frankness too is the refreshing antidote to a sprawling proscenium of emotional atrocity underpinning the impetus of many of her significant, recurrent imagery. The spiral for example, of which she said:

“It is a twist. As a child, after washing tapestries in the river, I would turn and twist and ring them. . . Later I would dream of my father’s mistress. I would do it in my dreams by ringing her neck. The spiral – I love the spiral – represents control and freedom.”

09-Louise-BourgeoisFrom ‘Suspension’ Exhibition at Cheim & Reid Gallery:   ‘Untitled’: figurine, (1995, from The Easton Foundation), forms in aluminium, (2004) and drawing (1946).

Through contrasting themes of witness, voyeur, custodian, caretaker, weaver, betrayer and childhood innocence, Louise Bourgeois sculpted a material landscape of inviolate integrity, across which, she sprawled her own deeply painful autobiography, seeking balance rather than perfection, forgiveness perhaps, rather than redemption, and mostly love, instead of revenge.

Of all the interpretations and ownership various, taken down the decades of her central work, Fillette (1960):

louise.b.filletteFillette (1968-89) from Dimitris Daskalopoulos Collection, Greece

The significance of this seemingly graphic depiction of male anatomy, when you truly listen to her biography and pay true attention to the fullness of the work’s title, rather than hark into the feigned rush and gush horror of contemporary degradation, implicit in an automatic assumption of sexual abuse, this work blends her persona and biography as few works do: It encompasses a spectrum of loyalties and apparent contradictions. Its depiction the complexity and contradictory depths of real Love and its accompanying tenderness, wrath and humiliation. Most especially, the haunting, persistent disillusion and crushing heartache for a young girl, never quite having come to terms with a fallen father figure, in his deep  and abiding his betrayal of her mother,  – having his own live-in lover, who was also, Bourgeois’ teacher.

In its intimate, yet fully exposed, biomorphic anatomy, this work embodies that archetypal principal of myth and psyche. Exposing the paradox was all she needed by which to explore, dissect, sever and mend herself . . .


–   and us.


Amantine Brodeur

Photo credits:  ©Tate Exhibition 2014.  Artists Rooms; Louise Bourgeois – A Woman Without Secrets. ©Centre Pompidou. Exhibition Louise Bourgeois.

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