French-American artist Louise Bourgeois’ instincts were to push the boundaries. Be it towering arachnids, distorted penises, childbirth, or the exaggerated female form, the subversive icon used sculpture and installation art along with paintings and printmaking to explore themes like sexuality, the body, motherhood, domesticity, family, death, and the subconscious. Her work was bold in both hues and subject and called for the viewers’ attention, while the woman herself was much more of a humble low-key figure, who opted for a dark, monochromatic personal style. Beyond the groundbreaking path she paved for women in art, Louise’s influence has transgressed disciplinary boundaries, inspiring designers in the fashion industry as well.
We’re now in a time where making a statement or having an opinion on topics of women’s rights, body politics, and the gender system is commonplace; however, for Bourgeois, creating her art meant diving into the taboo. Exhibiting with the Abstract Expressionists (though identifying more with feminist surrealism), in her work, she explored the physicality of the human form as experienced from within. With her most prolific work coming during her last 30-35 years of her life, she was approaching topics from a life fully-lived. Emotional perspective distorted perception, altered bodies, and reshaped faces and limbs, making pain, anxiety, and sadness all too palpable. Through her keen use of materials, she heightened conventional male-female tensions. Never too sharp or clean, Louise embraced imperfections - because life is messy and raw.
Louise Bourgeois’ textile art and live-in installation pieces were where the French-American artist married childhood memories with modern subjects. Her family’s tapestry workshop gave Louise a love for textile, clothing, and texture which spilled into her works. Many of the fabrics for her pieces came from her: sheets, shirts, stockings, skirts, and towels. From Naples (December 2008), Seven in Bed, LEGS (2001), Seamstress, mistress, distress, stress (1997), or her 1978 performance piece, A Banquet/A Fashion, Show of Body Parts, which centered on restrictive and tubular costumes with three dimensional additions. This work in particular served as the main source for Simone Rocha’s Autumn/Winter 2015 show, where she created figure-distorting silhouettes, 3-D add-ons, binding long sleeves, invisible panels, a couple of phalluses, and high collars paired with the models’ hair wrapped around their necks. “Clothes are about what you want to hide,” Bourgeois once said.
When it came to her personal style, Louise frequently rotated collared shirts, oversized dark and fur coats, muted tones, tight beanies, and pageboy caps with gold hoops. “Clothing is... an exercise of memory,” Bourgeois explained. “It makes me explore the past... how did I feel when I wore that?” She kept things relatively simple, but never sacrificed style. “She had an incredible profile,” said her former assistant Jerry Gorovoy to Rocha in 2015, “when someone has a natural beauty, it’s a gift, and to have a certain sense of style on top of that.”
Since Louise’s passing in 2010, her body of work is being discovered by an entirely new generation - adopting a newfound provenance during this time of #MeToo, Time’s Up, and the fight for women’s health equality. Through her pieces, she captured the deep, unadulterated feelings of every stage of life. She expressed her female experience in a way only she could, raw and unapologetically.