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Louise Bourgeois: The Fabric Works

Feb 17, 2011

by SabrinaGsch

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sabrina-headshot2.jpgLouise Bourgeois was known for her intimate, obsessive handwork. Maybe you’ve heard the lore around her relationship to fabric. She worked with both parents from a young age in the family’s tapestry restoration workshop, where one of her tasks was to draw in missing sections of tapestries that needed repair. The act of mending became a recurring impetus throughout her life’s work as an artist. She cut up, re-sewed, and printed over clothes, napkins, tablecloths — household remnants she kept from her youth — seeking to invoke and heal her childhood wounds. Her sewn works often celebrated her mother as a loving, protective figure, and vilified her domineering, unfaithful father.

During the fifty years she worked with fabric, Bourgeois created some of the most celebrated artworks in the medium. A recent exhibition at Hauser & Wirth in London gathered Bourgeois’s last decade of fabric work. (For those who missed it, I highly recommend the beautiful catalog.)

Installation-view-4.jpg

© Louise Bourgeois Trust, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Peter Mallet

Installation view, “Louise Bourgeois: The Fabric Works,” Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, 2010.

Bourgeois worked towards this show before her death earlier this year, and some critics have suggested that it is more peaceful than her previous retrospectives. These fabric works do have an intimate, unimposing quality, in stark contrast with the gigantic steel spider sculptures, looming outside of major museums around the world, for which she might be most well-known.

Conscious-and-Unconscious-2008.jpgCertain long-standing motifs did seem to me less tortured. Her familiar spiral (seen in the image at top) was rendered in blue and white over blue and white dots, which made for an almost cheery combination. In previous work Bourgeois connected spirals to the spidery webs spun by her protective mother, and to the rage she felt towards her father’s mistress. “When a tapestry had to be washed in the river, it took four people to hoist it out and twist it. Twisting is very important for me. When I dreamt of getting rid of the mistress, it was by twisting her neck,” she said. In another work, yellow and white striped fabric was cut and sewn into a polygon, beaming outward like a vibrant beach umbrella or two-toned kaleidoscope, instead of retreating inward like the psychological probing for which Bourgeois is known.

Photo, left by © Louise Bourgeois Trust, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Photo by Christopher Burke

Louise Bourgeois, Conscious and Unconscious, 2008. White oak, glass and stainless steel vitrine.

Untitled-2005.jpg

© Louise Bourgeois Trust, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Photo by Christopher Burke

UNTITLED, 2005, Fabric

In some pieces, three or four unadulterated rectangles of fabric were simply sewn together.  I found their charming and sophisticated color combinations to be elegant. Framed in wood and grouped together, they were dazzling. Several works make use of weaving, including a velvety, black and blue piece.

Untitled-2007.jpg

© Louise Bourgeois Trust, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Christopher Burke

Untitled, 2007, Fabric.

Untitled-2008.jpgI found the collaged works, in which Bourgeois had sewn floral or pod-like shapes over patched fabrics, to be the most exciting fabric works on view. Though they may have emerged from a powerful rage, they were surprisingly playful and unburdened.

Though Bourgeois often denied her enormous influence — she once said, “The feminists took me as a role model, as a mother. It bothers me. I am not interested in being a mother. I am still a girl trying to understand myself” — the brilliant colors, abstract patterning, and meditative handwork in this exhibition are sure to inspire generations of artists and crafters to come.

 

Left: © Louise Bourgeois Trust, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Christopher Burke

Louise Bourgeois, UNTITLED, 2008, Fabric and fabric collage.

 

Sabrina Gschwandtner is an artist, writer and curator whose work bridges the fields of conceptual art, handcraft, activism and social history. She received her BA in art/semiotics from Brown University, and an MFA from Bard College. Sabrina’s book, KnitKnit: Profiles and Project’s from Knitting’s New Wave, was published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang in 2007. She has written articles, reviews and creative text for a variety of publications including American Craft, Cabinet, Fiberarts, Interweave Knits, Craft, Rowan, Selvedge, Vogue Knitting, the Millennium Film Journal, and the Journal of Modern Craft. Read more about Sabrina in her profile.

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105 comments

  • QueenofCuffs

    QueenofCuffs said 5 years ago

    Reconstruction is the theme - mending often means remaking. I love to ' remake ' from fabric with a history and sew new life into it. I love this article when it says that 'twisting' is important - like a fabric fingerprint.

  • Floreal

    Floreal said 5 years ago

    Great article

  • vKnit

    vKnit said 5 years ago

    i loved reading this! stunning work! xox

  • SparkBoxStudio

    SparkBoxStudio said 5 years ago

    great article. I love her work.

  • PaperPhine

    PaperPhine said 5 years ago

    Unfortunately I missed the exhibition by Hauer & Wirth but I saw some amazing fabric works by Louise Bourgeois last summer in Venice. Inspiring and intriguing again and again - and a great contrast of geometric forms and soft material! Thanks for this article!

  • ChristinaThomasArt

    ChristinaThomasArt said 5 years ago

    Very cool and inspiring! I love use materials unconventionally as well.

  • NotYourGrandmothers

    NotYourGrandmothers said 5 years ago

    I never knew! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • AmberGypsySky

    AmberGypsySky said 5 years ago

    I always loved the notion that the way we're feeling will always creep into our work no matter what...whether we realize it or not too :)

  • acuriousbrood

    acuriousbrood said 5 years ago

    Interesting woman. Fascinated by her story and web imagery. Off to explore her spider pieces.

  • KMalinka

    KMalinka said 5 years ago

    Very interesting story! Nice fabric:O)

  • ArcSquare

    ArcSquare said 5 years ago

    I'd love to see this exhibition.

  • LittleMissQuarter

    LittleMissQuarter said 5 years ago

    Louise Bourgeois has long been a favourite artist of mine - i love her work. it was sad to lose her recently.

  • theroyal

    theroyal said 5 years ago

    very inspiring. thank you

  • bhangtiez

    bhangtiez said 5 years ago

    What a moving story.....

  • AliceCouture

    AliceCouture said 5 years ago

    So amazing works and inspiring story Adieu Mrs. Bourgeois! Thanks!

  • StudioConestoga

    StudioConestoga said 5 years ago

    I really enjoyed reading this piece. What a woman!...what a genius!

  • NoFrump

    NoFrump said 5 years ago

    Louise bourgeois is one of my favorites! There are so many incredible portraits of her (to say nothing more of her art!) I'd link one of the most amusing among them here, but it involves some rather mature (and large) anatomical content!

  • kristieb

    kristieb said 5 years ago

    Textiles are such an amazing medium - my favorite to work with. This is a wonderful piece. I've never had the pleasure of viewing Louise Bourgeois's work in person, but now I am dying too.

  • blueberryblonde

    blueberryblonde said 5 years ago

    beautiful!

  • Pipkyn

    Pipkyn said 5 years ago

    I have such a love affair with fabric so I completely understand the joy and expression Louise found in it. A beautiful collection.

  • aynart

    aynart said 5 years ago

    beautiful textures!

  • styleforlife

    styleforlife said 5 years ago

    Love this post. Love his work, such incredible taste. Very inspirational. Thank you! :-) XXXXX EL Vintage

  • AvianInspirations

    AvianInspirations said 5 years ago

    This is a lovely, calmer side of Louise Bourgeois that I like much more than her other works.

  • ScrapunzelPixie

    ScrapunzelPixie said 5 years ago

    Great post, thank you :)

  • collectiblesatoz

    collectiblesatoz said 5 years ago

    Enjoyed your article.

  • MetroGypsy

    MetroGypsy said 5 years ago

    A truly extraordinary talent! Thanks so much for sharing this!

  • dkalvarez

    dkalvarez said 5 years ago

    Wonderful Wonderful!! What a great talent and article

  • PlumeandPetals

    PlumeandPetals said 5 years ago

    Lovely work!~ thanks for the post =)

  • The10TieCo

    The10TieCo said 5 years ago

    Amazing how turning fabric from a flat, 2-dimensional medium into a 3-dimensional one can change the entire game. Very cool work.

  • briannamburnett

    briannamburnett said 5 years ago

    Thank you for this very quite and stunning article of her work and life.

  • MegansMenagerie

    MegansMenagerie said 5 years ago

    Beautiful work!!!

  • gothicreations

    gothicreations said 5 years ago

    very fun read

  • lindaketelhut

    lindaketelhut said 5 years ago

    Her work is Tremendous. Inspiring and wonderful story. Thank you!

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 5 years ago

    What a great artist! Loved the article!

  • flauntdesignsjewelry

    flauntdesignsjewelry said 5 years ago

    Tate Modern, London, had some Bourgeois spiders and huge towers a few years ago, and I had the fun of exploring them! Would love to see more of her work, perhaps it'll make it to Dallas :)

  • joanneblackeby

    joanneblackeby said 5 years ago

    A wonderful artist. Thank you for this great article.

  • mylenefoster

    mylenefoster said 5 years ago

    I'm not a fan of fabric art but her designs are unexpectedly modern and uneven which I like.

  • fashionL

    fashionL said 5 years ago

    beautiful!

  • ShoponSherman

    ShoponSherman said 5 years ago

    Interesting read about a very talented woman.

  • BlkSheepProductions

    BlkSheepProductions said 5 years ago

    Love love love Louise Bourgeois. Didn't get to see this show, but saw some of her fabric pieces at a retrospective in DC a few years ago -- they were so beautiful! Thanks for sharing the work of an incredibly prolific artist.

  • evesimone

    evesimone said 5 years ago

    Louise ♥ one of my fav's !

  • lulusnest

    lulusnest said 5 years ago

    Great article. Such a nice way to learn about different mediums. Thanks Etsy.

  • needleyou

    needleyou said 5 years ago

    Ahhh, love Louise Bougeois's work. : )

  • AntiGenre

    AntiGenre said 5 years ago

    I was so lucky to have been able to see her retrospective at the Guggenheim a couple of years ago - such powerful work! Thank you for spotlighting her work in this great article!

  • julessabjewelry

    julessabjewelry said 5 years ago

    Wow! Louise had some very powerful feelings about her father's mistress. I'm glad to see that the peacefulness that eventually entered her life was the thing expressed in her last works of art. Thank you Sabrina for sharing this fabulous fiber artist. I may have ever known of her.

  • ElenaMary

    ElenaMary said 5 years ago

    Her art is an inspiration..so pleased to see this feature on FINE ART!!!!!!!

  • BunnyRabbitVintage
  • WoodlandCottage

    WoodlandCottage said 5 years ago

    Fabulous! Awe inspiring! Stunning! I was not familiar with Louise Bourgeois' work, so this article is so wonderful--thank you very much!

  • cakemates

    cakemates said 5 years ago

    Gorgeous collection and article!

  • poorjimsvintage

    poorjimsvintage said 5 years ago

    lots of fabric hearts.

  • HellsSewingCircle

    HellsSewingCircle said 5 years ago

    Wow, thank you so much for this article. An intimate and revealing glimpse into the childhood and sophistication of her work.

  • waregarden

    waregarden said 5 years ago

    I enjoyed this very much! Thank you!

  • TheVinylChalkboard

    TheVinylChalkboard said 5 years ago

    I loved this story! I wonder if she or anyone ever wrote a book about her and her life. It would be an interesting read I'm sure.

  • SugarCubeVintage

    SugarCubeVintage said 5 years ago

    luv the modern take on fabric as sculpture...

  • nowvintage

    nowvintage said 5 years ago

    Vinyl Chalkboard, there are many books about her that you can get! wonderful artist, I can not get over the fact that she died this year! She actually used to have artists into her studio occasionally and I always fantasized that I would do that one day. Obviously I did not get it done and now she is gone! Beautiful woman, incredible artist! thanks for this article!

  • RPotterStudio

    RPotterStudio said 5 years ago

    Superb artist and a really nice article. Nice way to finish off a creative day! More artist spotlights like this are welcomed!

  • rinamiriam

    rinamiriam said 5 years ago

    Yes! Thank you for writing about Louise Bourgeois. What a nice surprise to see a little feature about her on Etsy. :-) Her work is absolutely fascinating.

  • WellCriated

    WellCriated said 5 years ago

    What beautiful creations, thanks for sharing them with us!

  • LAccentNou

    LAccentNou said 5 years ago

    Interesting and inspiring! Thank you!

  • JazzGreen

    JazzGreen said 5 years ago

    a light introduction to the work of Louise Bourgeois, but a very deserving one in this creative context... always an inspiration, many thanks for featuring some of her fabric works here...

  • beatyboutique

    beatyboutique said 5 years ago

    Very cool article, thank you!

  • craftaria

    craftaria said 5 years ago

    Great article. I will be searching for more information about this artist that I didn't knew of. Fascinating art!

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 5 years ago

    Wow amazing work, I find the geometrics really quite fascinating.

  • thepapermoonstudio

    thepapermoonstudio said 5 years ago

    Beautiful!

  • Atelier500

    Atelier500 said 5 years ago

    I have always enjoyed Louise' art sculptures and I would hunt for her shows to visit, but this article, refering to her fabric art is sensational. I learned a lot - THANKS for the knowledge! Joan

  • faylynn123

    faylynn123 said 5 years ago

    very nice!

  • breadandroses2

    breadandroses2 said 5 years ago

    The woven fabric/geometric constructions totally echo American folk art & utilitarian quilts. Would love to have seen Louise's work in person. Thanks for the review.

  • RebeccasEmporium

    RebeccasEmporium said 5 years ago

    I've loved Louise Bourgeois since ... as far as my arty little brain can remember! So glad you've written an article about her textile work! I feel inspired all over again :)

  • stepbackink

    stepbackink said 5 years ago

    love her work such harmony in shapes and colors Sam

  • NottyPooch

    NottyPooch said 5 years ago

    I first saw Louise Bourgeois's work (mainly sculpture and installation) when I was in Korea, and totally fell in love with it. It was many years back, before I even graduated. During my final semester, I studied her work as part of my final project. Thanks for bringing back this sweet memory! :D

  • ChrissiesRibbons

    ChrissiesRibbons said 5 years ago

    Thank you for introducing me to this artist... will definitely try to find out more

  • ChristinaRomeo

    ChristinaRomeo said 5 years ago

    Amazing and inspiring....very interesting story. Would love to see the exhibit.

  • ThePolkadotMagpie

    ThePolkadotMagpie said 5 years ago

    Wonderful blog. Love her!

  • amyfine

    amyfine said 5 years ago

    so interesting

  • ArtPhotosDiana

    ArtPhotosDiana said 5 years ago

    wonderful article, insights. Louise -- we will miss you. A great inspiration.

  • LuciaStofej

    LuciaStofej said 5 years ago

    I hope there will be more women artists like her...

  • HouseOfMoss

    HouseOfMoss said 5 years ago

    The symbolism is so real and so clear. What a great article.

  • ballandchain

    ballandchain said 5 years ago

    my favorite artist ever!

  • frommylifetoyours

    frommylifetoyours said 5 years ago

    Great story.

  • PDXfabricdeli

    PDXfabricdeli said 5 years ago

    So very interesting...I like the vintage fabrics.

  • Waterrose

    Waterrose said 5 years ago

    Love this article and would love to see the exhibit.

  • hazelandhunter

    hazelandhunter said 5 years ago

    great article about the inspiring louise. it's nice to see the focus on her textile work.

  • mythofus

    mythofus said 5 years ago

    wow. i love getting to know the artists and the places within them that lead to such amazing work

  • ameliamelia

    ameliamelia said 5 years ago

    Wonderful piece, nice to see this on Etsy! Louise was a remarkable woman.

  • TheArtofKris

    TheArtofKris said 5 years ago

    I saw her work at MOCA (Los Angeles) a few years back. Loved it!

  • LauraGourmel

    LauraGourmel said 5 years ago

    I love Louise Bourgeois , when she died I was so sad!! She was the greatest artist for me

  • madamegrenadine

    madamegrenadine said 5 years ago

    a grande dame! I love her work!!!

  • PyxusPassionProject

    PyxusPassionProject said 5 years ago

    Thanks so much for sharing this article and for making me aware of this inspiring artist!

  • corilu

    corilu said 5 years ago

    Great artist, wonderful textiles!

  • colormuse

    colormuse said 5 years ago

    happy to see the evidence of softness in Louise, the use of textiles inspiring and engaging. Glad I came upon this blog entry. Thank you.

  • LoveButtons

    LoveButtons said 5 years ago

    Love her work - and was lucky enough to see some fabric pieces in an exhibition in Edinburgh a while back - fabulous and inspiring :D

  • BrendaSipeArt

    BrendaSipeArt said 5 years ago

    Thanks for nice article about one of my favorite artists.

  • ilgattoselvatico

    ilgattoselvatico said 5 years ago

    I love Louis Bourgeois!

  • NellieFellow

    NellieFellow said 5 years ago

    wonderful article. I love learning about the people and snippets of life that influence an artist.

  • unabellavita

    unabellavita said 5 years ago

    Fabulous artwork!

  • TotallyArt

    TotallyArt said 5 years ago

    Thank you for this aricle,it reminded me of my student years when I studied L Bourgeois extensively as I loved and still do her work. She was one of the most intelligent artists." Constructing and Deconstructing the father" about her work and life was the book i could n't put down. I still read parts in it.I recommend it. I've seen her work in various exhibitions, it was arresting and disturbing at times but always amazing.

  • KozyCanines

    KozyCanines said 5 years ago

    What a great article! All those beautiful fabrics sure get the creative juices flowing!

  • gretchenmist

    gretchenmist said 5 years ago

    such a great artist~ thanks for sharing this info about her and her work. would love to have seen the exhibition.

  • HartVariations

    HartVariations said 5 years ago

    Louise Bourgeois remains one of my all time favorites...her art, her passion, her story...thanks for turning the spotlight on her and sharing some of her work with us...(destruction of the father floors me every time!)

  • LindaCelestian

    LindaCelestian said 5 years ago

    I love her work and her story.

  • monatao

    monatao said 5 years ago

    great!

  • daisyvortex

    daisyvortex said 5 years ago

    Great Lady

  • polkadotscloud

    polkadotscloud said 5 years ago

    wooow! when I saw the name of Louise Bourgeois here on etsy blog my heart feels like it is going to explode. i'm obsessed with her art and drawings..with all she created! She was my fav artist ever!!! so thank you so much Sabrina :)

  • Jackwood

    Jackwood said 5 years ago

    I really enjoyed reading Sabrina Gschwandtner's article about the exhibition of Louise Bourgeois' fabric work at Hauser & Wirth in London. After reading the article I spent a couple of hours looking for/at books on the internet including Sabrina's book _KnitKnit: Profiles and Project's for Knitting's New Wave_ which I think I am going to have to buy along with the catalog of the show! Very inspiring work and article.

  • maglodo

    Martha Phelps from MartasLace said 2 years ago

    Where can I purchase Louise Bourgeious fabrics?

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