Monday, November 6, 2017

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky

Cloth Lullaby presents the life an work of avant-garde French artist, Louise Bourgeois who is best remembered for her sculptures of giant spiders. Louise Josephine, born on Christmas Day in 1911 in Paris, France, was named after her parents, Louis Bourgeois and Josephine Fauriaux. Her family consisting of an older sister and younger brother, lived above their shop in the genteel St. Germain neighbourhood, where they sold tapestries.The Bourgeois's also had a villa and workshop in the countryside, where they worked to restore damaged antique tapestries.

When Louise was growing up, she was often recruited to help restore these tapestries during the weekends. At the age of twelve she would draw in the missing areas of damaged tapestries. In her teen years, Louise attended Lycee Fenelon in Paris. Her childhood was marred by an unhappy home life. Louise was very close to her mother but her father was unfaithful to her mother. His mistress lived with the family creating a great deal of tension in their home life. Louise was also unable to live up to her father's expectations.

In 1930, she attended the Sorbonne, where she studied math and philosophy. But,when her mother passed away in 1932, Louise was inspired to switch to studying art. From 1934 to 1938 she studied at various schools including the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the Academie Ranson, the Academie Julian and several others. Although she initially studied painting, Louise was told she should become a sculptor. She began to draw on the upsetting experiences of her childhood as her creative inspiration. Her first exhibition was in the Salon d'Automne in 1938. Louise also opened a print shop in a section of her father's tapestry shop. Her father did not support her choice to become an artist but he did allow her the use of part of the family's shop. It was in the print shop that she met her future husband, American art historian, Robert Goldman. They married in 1938 and Louise emigrated to New York where her husband was employed at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts as an art professor.

A young Louise Bourgeois. 1946
Louise joined the Art Students League, an art school in Manhattan where she worked on her technique as a painter. Over the course of the next four years she had three children, (the first adopted from France). In the 1950's Louise and Robert returned to France for a short period of time. She also began therapy after her father's death and continued for almost thirty years. By the 1960's Louise began to experiment with many different materials including wood, rubber, latex and marble.

Over the years, her art became a sort of therapy for Louise, in which she dealt with the anger over her father's infidelity to her mother and the presence of his mistress in her life. Spirals, spiders and cages are several of the forms Louise used to express certain ideas. For example, the spiral was termed by Louise as "a twist. As a child, after washing tapestries in the river, I would turn and twist and ring them. . . Later I would dream of my father's mistress. I would do it in my dreams by ringing her neck. The spiral - I love the spiral - represents control and freedom."

Spiders first appeared in Louise's work in the 1940's but it wasn't until the 1990's that she created the spider sculptures for which she is famous. The spider represented her mother who was her best friend. "The spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver...Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother."

Maman sculpture
Cloth Lullaby opens with Louise's childhood, painting it as somewhat idyllic, as would be expected for a children's picture book. Novesky brings to the attention of readers, Louise's childhood love of the world around her, especially the trees and the river. The picture book then moves on to explore the impact her family's tapestry heritage had on her art. To Louise repairing the threads of damaged tapestries were a reminder of the work of spiders as they spin their webs. Mentioned are Louise's use of spirals, her interest in body parts, and of course her interest in weaving. Although many books focus on Louise's strange sculptures, Cloth Lullaby emphasizes her use of fabric. Her fabric collages and cloth drawings were "her way to make things whole." Louise's love of her mother and her attempts to keep the memory of her mother are also mentioned. Cloth Lullaby sprinkles quotes from Louise throughout and pictures of her strange spider sculptures are also included.

Accompanying this text are the unique illustrations of artist Isabelle Arsenault, done in ink, pencil, pastel, watercolor and Photoshop. This is a lovely picture book that captures the special talent of Louise Bourgeois.

Book Details:

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky
New York: Abrams Books For Young Readers         2016

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