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Celebrating Louise Bourgeois: A testament to late-blooming success

This International Women’s Day, I'm celebrating the life and legacy of Louise Bourgeois, a trailblazing French-American artist whose journey to success serves as an inspiration to women around the world.

Born in 1911 in Paris, Bourgeois faced early struggles, including the profound loss of her mother at a young age. This adversity deeply impacted her, shaping her personal life and artistic expression.

The absence of her mother cast a long shadow over Bourgeois' formative years, leaving her to navigate the complexities of adolescence and womanhood with little maternal guidance.

This profound loss would reverberate throughout her life, influencing her art and fueling her sureal exploration of themes like femininity, domesticity, sexuality, vulnerability, and the complexities of human relationships.

Compounding her grief was the complex relationship she shared with her father, who ran an antique tapestry gallery and restoration business.

Bourgeois' father played a significant role in her life, instilling a deep appreciation for craftsmanship and the arts.

However, their relationship was marked by tension and conflict, and alleged abuse.

For years, Bourgeois struggled to assert her independence and forge her own path in a world dominated by men.

Despite her early struggles, Bourgeois persevered, honing her craft and carving out a space for herself.

Bourgeois went on to study art and later opened a gallery that showed pieces by Henri Matisse and other great artists. There, she met customer and visiting American art professor Robert Goldwater. They married, moved to New York and had three sons.

Bourgeois continued her art education in the U.S., but didn't hold her first solo exhibition until the age of 53.

Her real breakthrough came much later in life, in her 70s and 80s, when her groundbreaking work finally received the recognition it deserved.

"The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn't get mad. She weaves and repairs it." Louise Bourgeois

Later, when Bourgeois was teaching art in New York, her work became celebrated as feminist iconography. She famously rejected that label and said her art was, "pre-gender."

Through sculptures, installations, and prints, Bourgeois fearlessly explored the depths of the human psyche, challenging societal norms and inviting viewers to confront their vulnerabilities.

Bourgeois eventually received numerous prestigious awards and honors, including the National Medal of Arts in 1997 and the Praemium Imperiale for sculpture in 2007, solidifying her place as one of the most celebrated artists of her generation.

In 2010, at the age of 98, Bourgeois died of heart failure.

She stayed creative right up until her death, finishing her last piece of art just weeks before she passed.

Bourgeois' late-blooming success is a powerful reminder that it's never too late to pursue our passions and realise our dreams.

"I am not what I am, I am what I do with my hands." Louise Bourgeois

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let's honour the memory of Louise Bourgeois and the countless women who, like her, have overcome adversity to leave an indelible mark on the world.

Did you know you can experience the strange beauty of Louise Bourgeois’ art at The Art Gallery of NSW?

Her exhibition Has the Day Invaded the Night or Has the Night Invaded the Day? is showing there until 28 April 2024.

About Victoria Hall

Victoria Hall is an English-born, Australian-based writer, illustrator and art lover. She is the creator of three picture books for children, Penny Prickles at Coogee Beach, Eggy Peggy Has Lost Her Leggy and The Fairy Beasts. For more updates, follow Victoria on Instagram or check out her bio here


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