'Art is truth because it is eternal.'
Louise Bourgeois [1911-2010]
The first time I saw Louise Bourgeois' work at an exhibition, I discovered something that altered my relationship to art profoundly. I remember being mesmerised by her sculpture Spiral Woman, and walking away wanting to write about it, but not with the language of theory or criticism, but with poetry. That stumped me. I was an art history student, used to navigating the discourses that shaped current art historical practice - of writing texts with cross-disciplinary theory, historical methodology, visual analysis...dry, distant and "learned" writing that spoke to academics. But no, I wanted to write a poem, and I did. That was the beginning of my current Art Stories project. I later discovered that my impulse to write about art creatively has a tradition. The art historian Paul Barolsky believes Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists [first published in 1550], one of the foundation texts and primary source material in studying the Renaissance, is a work of fiction. That was mind-blowing to me. And while I'll save talking about that tradition for another day, it affirmed what I was doing, and that I wasn't alone.
When I came to write about Louise Bourgeois' work Cell [Glass spheres and hands] , I delved into some of the recurring themes of her work: the pain of deception and betrayal; the blurred lines of truth and lies; the cut of rejection; how risk is inherent in love and that safety in relationships is a precarious concept. And fear: of being alone, denied, unloved. What is exceptional and challenging about Bourgeois' work for me, is its mystery and how its secrets are not yielded easily, if at all. Her work evades categorisation and simple theoretical or biographical approaches. Her own words might point to a meaning, but she herself once said: 'I never talk literally. Never, never, never. You do not get anywhere by being literal, except to be puny. You have to use analogy and interpretation and leaps of all kinds.'
By being so elusive, the openness of Bourgeois' work to interpretation is enduring. And her ability to elicit such an emotional and imaginative response, it makes her art eternal.