Mnemonic, symbolic, evocative, and restrained—these strong, if contradictory, qualities are typical of Louise Bourgeois’s sculpture. “Every day,” she declared, “you have to abandon your past or accept it, and then, if you cannot accept it, you become a sculptor.” For her, the art-making process was a search for the forms that translate experiences—an operation that she compared with exorcism. The sculptor is her own healer, the work a sort of proxy that reveals the forms of trauma: elusive, almost abstract, but also descriptive. In Bourgeois’s figures, one can recognize limbs, organs, and organic formations that fuse with the inorganic materiality of the medium, be it marble, resin, wood, or bronze. In fact, the choice of a specific material was something completely intuitive for the artist: “The medium is always a matter of makeshift solutions. That is, you try everything, you use every material around, and usually they repulse you. Finally, you get one that will work for you. And it is usually the softer ones—lead, plaster, malleable things. That is to say that you start with the harder thing and life teaches you that you had better buckle down, be contented with softer things, softer ways.”
The artist’s repertoire of materials was as connected to traditional media such as bronze or marble as it was open to new textures, such as those of latex and synthetic resin. Latex, in its similarity to human skin, conveys a feeling intrinsic to Bourgeois’s aesthetic, where representation often entails the creation of a surrogate for the body and its suffering organs. Yet her images of the body point not at its appearance, but the way it is perceived from within. Bourgeois’s body is a psychological, internalized one—the body as it is experienced by the sufferer—and the accumulations of members and membranes are symbolically powerful because they are imaginary.
Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911. She died in New York City in 2010.