Louise Bourgeois (1911– 2010) was a French-American artist. Born in Paris, she was raised by parents who ran a tapestry restoration business. A gifted student, she also helped out in the workshop by drawing missing elements in the scenes depicted on the tapestries. Later in life, she is best known for her large-scale sculpture and installation art, yet Bourgeois was also a prolific painter and printmaker.
Learning about her creative process in the show at MoMA NY in the fall of 2017, ‘Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait,’ I was fascinated by Maman and her printed oeuvres on fabric, a little-known aspect of her work.
In the late 1990s, Bourgeois began using the spider as a central image in her art. Her largest spider sculpture titled Maman, stands at over 30 feet and has been installed in numerous locations around the world. It is the largest Spider sculpture ever made by Bourgeois. Maman alludes to the strength of her mother, with metaphors of spinning, weaving, nurture and protection.“The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”
Louise Bourgeois’s connection to fabric goes back to her childhood years when she helped out in her family’s tapestry restoration workshop. As an adult, she long associated the act of sewing with repairing on a symbolic level, as she attempted to fix the damage she caused in personal relationships. She even held a special regard for spools of thread and needles as tools that served this purpose.
In the 1990’s, fabric took center stage as a sculptural element in Bourgeois’s work, and she began to mine material from clothes accumulated over a lifetime, experimenting with printing on previously worn fabric, deciding that she no longer needed all the clothes she had saved for years, or the household fabrics she stored. She began constructing books of fabric collages In 1999, she hired a seamstress, Mercedes Katz, to help with this work and set her up in a workshop-like area on the lower level of her house. The old fabrics she selected resonated with memories. “Clothing is…an exercise of memory. It makes me explore the past…how did I feel when I wore that…”, she said, “ You can… remember your life by the shape, the weight, the color, the smell of the clothes in your closet.”
* Ode a L’Oubli (Ode to Forgetting) 2002
Fabric illustrated book with thirty-nine fabric collages. This is Bourgeois’s first book of fabric collages. The pages are composed of linen hand towels saved from her trousseau.