In one of the prints from the series Topiary. The Art of Improving Nature by Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), a woman pushes with a mighty inner force the trunk of an exuberant tree.
In another graphic work by this imposing French-American artist, Bourgeois recreates the subject of maternity in a drawing of a mother and newborn child, naked, vulnerable, on the foot of a staircase. Despite the fact that the staircase is very steep and high, the impression is that overcoming all the difficulties, one day mother and child will reach the top. Survival and vulnerability but also courage and freedom. This is the message that all Bourgeois’ work exudes and for me she is one of the best artists of the twentieth century, out of both men and women.
Basically known for her sculptural works, Bourgeois was also a great printmaker, excelling in all the techniques but specifically in drypoint. You can see for yourself in the Marlborough Gallery in Barcelona which is currently exhibiting twenty-odd prints made between 1988 and 2005.
There is little difference in the subjects that chooses for her prints and those of her sculptures. The world of Bourgeois is so personal that it becomes one of the most difficult to put a label on. There is a bit of Surrealism, maybe, but not much else you could put your finger on. Bourgeois is Bourgeois and now that the genre of self-fiction is so much in fashion, you could say that she is the most powerful inventor of visual self-fiction in the contemporary sense of the term.
Bourgeois sublimates insecurities through a cat-like alter-ego.
Her childhood and adult traumas, the difficulties of being a woman and, at the same time her vital drive, all appear in these prints. Pain is the in Madeleine screaming in a clear reference to Dora Maar crying in Picasso’s painting. Bourgeois sublimates insecurities through a cat-like alter-ego, a sensual feline in high-heels, Champfleurette. Growing up, as she did, in a house full of animals, she designed a kind of contemporary best, where cats and spiders – the symbol of maternity – are the great protagonists.
Fragmented bodies appear in the prints of the series Topiary. The art of Improving Nature, while in Eight in Bed, the only works in colour in the whole exhibition, there is a very ironic scene of polyamory. The astuteness of the vision of Bourgeois, who is now an old lady, the one that you see in the portrait Robert Mapplethorpe made of her with a sculpture of a giant penis under her arm, soars over the exhibit of this creator who used art to strengthen, in her own words, her “determination to survive at any level, no matter how fragile”.
Louise Bourgeois prints: Anatomy of an artist can be visited at Marlborough Gallery, Barcelona, until 6 of March.