Towering spider sculptures may form a large part of her legacy, but the seminal feminist artist's autobiographical doodles tell a far more intimate story
She's perhaps best known for her imposing spider sculptures, which can be found lurking in some of the world’s greatest institutions, or for her intensely psychological textile figures which hang suspended from gallery ceilings. But in fact, the most continuous practice in Louise Bourgeois' awe-inspiring, eight-decade-long career, and the most revealing of her fraught mind and dry humour, was printmaking. With motifs and styles remaining resolutely unchanged through the years, the artist produced two series of intimate drawings, the Drypoints (1999) and the Autobiographical Prints (1994), now brought together in a tiny tome entitled Louise Bourgeois: Autobiographical Prints, edited by Hayward Publishing and accompanied by psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell’s insightful writing.
Diffused with references ranging from Proust’s considerations on memory in In Search of Lost Time, to reflections on Freud and the Oedipus complex, the artist’s fears and reminiscence of past traumas result in frantic, disturbing childlike sketches. They encompass much of Bourgeois' archetypal imagery – sewing kits, cages, clocks, feet and, of course, the nude female body – and refer overwhelmingly to themes such as motherhood, dread, and sexuality.
However, despite their dark character, the prints also expose the artist's playful spirit, as even the grimmest of all scenarios are turned into a visual pun. The Smell of Feet offers an irreverent incarnation of Proust's famed madeleine episode; a female Mosquito becomes a noble, bejewelled princess; and The Angry Cat makes for the perfect drinking companion once you realise his nose is a glass of red wine. The artistic fallout is eerie and absurd yet perfectly comical, with drawings that jest at the most fundamental of human anxieties, transforming them into something familiar and altogether more accessible.
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