“Offbeat” Artist Appreciation: Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois was a revolutionary French-American artist whose experimental works acted as unusual but honest representations of earnest human emotions. She was not one to shy away from the uncomfortable, being perhaps most famous for Spider, Maman, and Destruction of the Father. A common denominator amongst these striking creations is that they were all inspired by her parents and her complicated relationships with them. In fact, Bourgeois was quite open about the fact that it was childhood trauma which influenced her most, and art which saved her. According to fashion and culture magazine AnOther, Bourgeois once stated “art is a guarantee of sanity”. Her works were deeply personal, as she was pouring her deepest pains into a physical form.
Bourgeois was born into a complicated family life. In 1911, she was delivered by Joséphine Fauriaux in Paris. Her father was Louis Bourgeois, who named his daughter “Louise” as he was hoping for a son instead which he could name after himself. Her parents made most of their money by selling and restoring tapestries, Louise learning to associate her beloved mother with sewing, thread, and needles. This general connection resulted in the artist seeing similarities between her mother and the often feared spider, both being creatures that create webs of their own. Because of this association, many of Louise’s future statues of spiders are actually tributes to her mother — who she was profoundly close with.
In 1919, the family, which included Louise and her siblings Henriette and Pierre, would move to a property in Antony, a suburb of Paris. Around this time, Josephine contracted the Spanish Flu and never recovered from it — resulting in Louise often having to act as a nurse to her mother, even while a young girl herself. Her education was frequently disrupted by her mother’s bouts of ill health and she reported feeling constant stress in her life. Matters were further complicated by the 1922 arrival of au pair Sadie Gordon Richmond. Her purpose was to teach Louise and her siblings English, but she instead ended up acting primarily as a mistress to Louise’s father — a relationship which deeply traumatized and impacted Louise, who was only 11 at the time of its formation. This betrayal against Josephine would be the guiding inspiration for Louise’s piece Destruction of the Father.
The First World War acted as a destructive backdrop to Louise’s childhood, making her life only more complicated and messy at such a young age. Severe tragedy struck in 1933 when Josephine succumbed to her sickness, leaving her daughter distraught and devastated. Articles have reported how Josephine was a logical, practical woman, which deeply contrasted the more passionate, spontaneous nature of Louise’s father. The loss of such a sensible figure in her life was deeply traumatic for Louise. Now a young woman, she was initially going to pursue an education in mathematics. However, the intense grief she felt over her mother’s passing drove her to find solace in art. This method of grieving gradually spawned into a profoundly successful and impactful career in the arts, Louise Bourgeois going on to have a large impact in the genre of installation art.