Old slips hanging from old bones. Drawings like dried blood. Worn fabric and harsh stitches.
Like many in the art world, I feel the need to pay tribute to the redoubtable Louise Bourgeois, who died this week aged 98.
I’m not sure when I first became aware of her work but the first time I saw it in person was at her 1998 solo show in The Serpentine in London. It was such a visceral experience that I had to leave half way through for some fresh air. I had to go and sit on a bench in the park for about half an hour before I could look at the rest of it: I’d never had such an intense physical reaction to an exhibition before and I was rocked to my core for some time afterwards.
Several years later in Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, I was captivated by her stacked fabric sculptures made from striped mattress ticking and vitrines containing small, crudely stitched pink figures.
I didn’t always like her work, it could be disturbing in its blobbiness and overt sexuality – she wasn’t always at home to subtlety – but I was rarely unaffected by it. I am particularly fond of her drawings, which have a delightful freshness and lightness of line.
Her uncompromising commitment to her art also inspired. Like all the best artists, she didn’t seem to care what people thought of her work. She had the courage of her convictions: if she wanted to use metal, she used metal, if she wanted to sew scraps of worn pink flannel, she just cracked on and did it. We can all take a lesson from that.
And as someone who didn’t get my art degree until I was in my 30’s, Bourgeois has always given me hope that I’m not too old to have a successful art career. I hope I’m still making brave, radical new work when I’m an old age pensioner!
So rock on, Louise – I don’t believe in an afterlife but I hope you’re hanging out with Robert Mapplethorpe somewhere, waving a big penis sculpture at us all and giggling.