The story is breaking on the internet that Louise Bourgeois has died, of a heart attack. What a loss. I thought she’d outlive all of us, and continue making art forever.
Last autumn, during a fabulous residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, I often walked down to the Tuileries in the evenings to put my hands into her expressive piece Welcoming Hands (1996), a series of bronze sculptures set on blocks of granite: pairs and groups of hands and one tiny, solitary, child’s hand. They invite touch, just as her great spiders invite entry, as her work compels admiration, as she herself inspired fascination and affection, even in people (like me) who never met her. She was a tiny woman, but a force to be reckoned with. Possibly the most inspiring thing about her, and what made her so important to so many of us was her absolute commitment to her art, and the astounding fact that she continued to make it, into her 90s.
One night in Paris that October, Gail Ritchie, whose residency in the CCI coincided with mine, came to drag me away from my desk, out to see her latest discovery: a new Louise Bourgeois piece, which she had come across by accident in the window of a tiny gallery on rue Jacques Callot. (This was the sort of lucky accident that happened to us quite often in those extraordinary weeks.) It was the Self Portrait (2009), depicting a 24-hour ‘clock’, with the hands set at 19 – 11, the year Louise Bourgeois was born. We stood with our faces pressed to the glass, like children, and stared, taking it all in. That she was 98, and still making striking new work.
In a recent documentary, Louise Bourgeois says: “My emotions are inappropriate to my size. (…) The intensity of the emotions (is) too much for me to handle … that’s why I transfer the energy into sculpture.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMdWNwOWnng)
“My emotions are inappropriate to my size.” I miss her already.