Celebrated for large-scale sculpture and installation art, Bourgeois was also an inventive and prolific printmaker, especially during the last decade of her life. Centered around one of her most powerful themes––motherhood and maternity––the exhibition places Bourgeois’s printed works in relation to sculptures and drawings to highlight the essential role printmaking played within her multifaceted practice.
‘Once there was a mother’ takes its title from Plate 9 of Bourgeois’s 1947 illustrated book ‘He Disappeared into Complete Silence,’ which pairs nine engravings with short texts she called parables. These stories and their accompanying images of isolated buildings convey a sense of loneliness, alienation and lack of communication. They also show Bourgeois’s fascination with the architecture of her adopted city, New York, where she lived and worked from 1938 until her death in 2010. In the parable which accompanies Plate 9, a son ultimately rejects his devoted mother despite her best efforts to protect him. Bourgeois wrote this in the mid-1940s, while raising three young sons.
Most of the printed works in the exhibition were made during the last decade of Bourgeois’s life, when images of maternity––pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding––came to the fore. Although already in her nineties at the time of their creation, the prints reveal Bourgeois to be exceptionally active and innovative, experimenting with a variety of techniques, adding hand-applied details, and printing on the old garments and household fabric she had saved throughout her long life.
Like pages of a diary, this material evoked memories of people and events from Bourgeois’s past and was also used extensively in her sculptural work as she increasingly identified with her mother, a tapestry weaver and restorer. Her longtime printer, Felix Harlan, established a printing process in which the various fabrics could take as rich an impression as paper. During this period, Bourgeois also began working closely with noted New York publisher and gallerist Carolina Nitsch, who encouraged her interest in making editioned prints with unique elements, including archival dyes, collage and digital processes.
Printmaking afforded Bourgeois the possibility of taking an image or theme and experimenting with it across different variations and permutations. ‘The Fragile’ (2007) is an edition of seven individual sets of thirty-six prints on fabric, each with distinct elements and hand-applied archival dyes. The work is an expression of Bourgeois’s feelings of physical and psychological frailty in her old age, and her ensuing identification with the infant child.
One of the exhibition’s only completely unique printed works is ‘Self Portrait’ (2009). Composed on an old bedspread embroidered with the initials ‘L.B.,’ this work was made a year before the artist’s death and depicts a 24-hour clock with hands positioned at the hours 19 and 11––which together form the year of Bourgeois’s birth. Twenty-four individual drypoint prints are collaged and stitched at every hour, with each print illustrating an important event from the artist’s life. The image at hour 24 resembles ‘Maman,’ the monumental spider Bourgeois saw as a symbol for her mother and as analog for her own artistic practice.
Tuesday 19 Sep, 2023 5:30 pm
Printmaker Felix Harlan & Maggie Wright on ‘Louise Bourgeois. Once there was a mother’
On the occasion of the exhibition ‘Louise Bourgeois. Once there was a mother’ at Hauser & Wirth’s newly dedicated Editions space, please join us for a talk about the artist and her printmaking practice with Harlan & Weaver’s Felix Harlan and The Easton Foundation’s Maggie Wright.
Born in France in 1911, and working in America from 1938 until her death in 2010, Louise Bourgeois is recognized as one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th Century. For over seven decades, Bourgeois’s creative process was fueled by an introspective reality, often rooted in cathartic re-visitations of early childhood trauma and frank examinations of female sexuality. Articulated by recurrent motifs (including body parts, houses and spiders), personal symbolism and psychological release, the conceptual and stylistic complexity of Bourgeois’s oeuvre—employing a variety of genres, media and materials—plays upon the powers of association, memory, fantasy, and fear.