Monday, March 29, 2010

Louise Bourgeois - Feminist Artist

Louise Bourgeois is a French artist who was born on Dec. 25, 1911 and is still working today. The photograph (Mapplethorpe, 1982) on the right is one of Bourgeois holding one of her sculptures called Fillette (French translation - Young Girl). She is considered a feminist artist because her life and feminist subjects are main parts of her work. Her life is a large influence in her work. She's stated: “My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama.” (PBS, 2007)

Helaine Posner writes of her childhood, "Born in Paris in 1911 to an affluent family who were in the business of repairing and selling 17th and 18th century tapestries, she was the middle child of a capable, nurturing mother, who headed the famil'y restoration workshop, and a handsome, flirtatious, often volatile father, for whom she was named and whose attentions she courted. ... During her formative years, her father invited his English mistress, Sadie, into the household to be the children's tutour; while her mother accepted this situation, it was intolerable to the young Louise, who was required to ignore her father's blatant infidelities, endure his betrayals, and accept Sadie, the hated rival for her father's love. The anxiety, jealousy, and rage born of this bizarre family drama have fueled aspects of her passionately expressive art throughout her career..." (Posner, 2007)

Posner also writes of Bourgeois, "Bourgeois's body of work (including painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, and installation) constitutes a profound, life-long examination of her complex inner workings, often intense and fragile relationships, and personal anxiety. She has simply stated, 'I identify myself with extreme emotions,' and the sensations her work evokes resonate deeply with the viewer. These emotional states and the imagery the artist created from them are based on her difficult experiences growing up in a largely patriarchal society. Fear and pain, anger and aggression, and sexuality and obsession frequently find expression in the artist's charged representations of the body - or body part - and the home." (Posner, 2007)

Bourgeois's Femme Maison (Woman House) paintings are some of her earliest works being created during 1946-1947. You can see these painting on the right. They clearly have feminist overtones, that being a woman's place is in the house. Posner writes, "...a house replaces or engulfs the head of a nude woman, negating her identity and isolating her from the outside world. Here the traditional domain and supposed haven of a woman is made a suffocating confinement, more a prison than a source of familial contentment." (Posner, 2007)
These painting do have an unnerving feeling an confinement. If a woman's place is in the house, shouldn't she feel happy, not confined, there? The shape and image of the woman's house is literal reflection on the woman here.

From here she then moves into sculpture. This is somewhat strange for a woman to do sculpture because it is generally dominated by male artists. Thus it was hard for her to really break into the sculpture scene. Especially since she was doing sculptures in wood and bronze, which is even more male dominated. If women were to do sculpture, it was more often seen to be more of the 'crafty' or textile sculptures. Something more suitable for women to be doing. Leave the heavy work to the men.

One of her newest series are her series of Cells.
The photo on the right is called Cell (Choisy) and was done during 1990-93. These cells are clearly based on her childhood drama in her home. Here we have a large house enclosed by wire fencing with a guillotine poised above the home. This is the large, industrial sculpture I was talking about before that was generally left for the men to do.
Again, Posner writes of the cells, "... [the] title [cells] may refer to a living organism, or more aptly, to an anxious site of enclosure, confinement, and solitude. The Cells are highly charged theater of memory. ...these collective works reveal a woman's interior life as an essentially fluid realm in which internal states and external reality merge. In these installations, references to the body and the home, ever-present in Bourgeois work, abound." (Posner, 2007)
These Cell installations are very reminiscent of her Woman House paintings. The feeling of confinement in the home and how women deal with that. How women feel that they must keep the family (the home) together is also present here, from my view. The guillotine ever poised to fall and cut the family apart at any moment. "A claustrophobic atmosphere of isolation, loneliness, tension, and threat envelops these works." (Posner, 2007)

As Bourgeois got older, she began work on a series of sculptures based on hands. The photograph on the right is a selection from Welcoming Hands from 1996 originally set in New York. These are bronze sculptures on granite blocks. Here we see a more material, caring focus on her artwork. Here there are two hands gently holding another hand. To more this speaks more of kindness and gentleness. A very feminine quality in such a hard, industrial format. I think it shows how a woman needs to be. Hard and stone cold on the surface, but gentle and caring on the inside. It speaks of unity and care to me.

We can see through out her career as an artist, that is still professing despite her age, Bourgeois as encompassed many feminist feelings. She's harboured feelings of anger because of how she grew up, but then eventually comes around to a more care-focused feminism. She's dealt with the home and how she feels it confines a woman, but yet that woman can extend her hand to the many to help or welcome them. Louise Bourgeois is truly an amazing feminist artist. "Bourgeois has been a singular and singularly influential presence, for feminist among other, and has, most likely with great ambivalence, attained the status of artistic mother of us all." (Posner, 2007)

PBS, . "Art: 21." Art: 21. Louise Bourgeois. Biography. PBS, 2007. Web. 29 Mar 2010.

Posner, Helaine. "Louise Bourgeois: Intensity and Influence." After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art. New York, NY: Prestel, 2007. Print.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. "Louise Bourgeois." 1982. 29 Mar. 2010.

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