Jun 19, 2010

louise bourgeois - insomnia drawings

After hearing that Louise Bourgeois had died, I reread her book "Drawings and Observations".  I've seen a show of her sculptures and indeed they are amazing, but it's her drawings that I go back to over and over again.  Her repetitive circles and lines have a calming effect, which is no wonder since she drew to find relief from chronic insomnia.

She writes about this drawing, titled Throbbing Pulse, 1944:

"My work has to do with a defense against fervor.  People are always in a rush.  To do what?  To do nothing!  There is a kind of fervor that is completely meaningless.  This drawing is a call for meditation.... I am an insomniac, so for me the state of being asleep is paradise.  It is a paradise I can never reach.  But I still try to conquer the insomnia, and to a large extent I have done it; it is conquerable.  My drawings are a kind of rocking or stroking and an attempt at finding peace.  Peaceful rhythm.  Like rocking a baby to sleep."

And about the one below, Untitled, 1988, done forty-four years later and a drawing I look to as an example of strength in simplicity, she explains:

"This came out of the Progression series.  It is a joke on the eternal ladder of success.  Isn't it an American expression, 'to climb the ladder of success'?  So this is taken for granted, and it is the opposite of what Camus said, that the ladder of success can be your downfall.  Just the same, in a modern economy, you have to believe that the ladder of success does apply and is rewarding.  So this is what it is.  An attempt to be better and better.

This is also a visual problem.  The question is, from where you are, do you see the underside of a given step or do you see the top of that step?  So the ladder of success is a metaphor for an exercise in geometry and perspective.  But as you know, I love geometry, I love mathematics, and as I've said many times before, the best time in my life was when I was at the Sorbonne studying geometry.  I was told that everything was explainable through science.  You just put yourself in the right corner the right vision and everything is fine.  That was a fallacy, but still, it was there, that if you plan right, you are going to get there."


  1. Melissa, It is a great idea to reread this book--even reading these quotes again let's me know that I would see/learn new things if I read them now...I too love these drawings, they are very important to me.

  2. L.B. is a big inspiration for me, too. I can only hope to be making strong work even though my body is old and shriveling up. Aside from her amazing career arc, she was such a crafty writer. Writing about art intelligently without sounding totally pretentious is really tricky, but she does it effortlessly, almost as an afterthought. "Let's look at these circles I drew, now let me explain how they are part creation itself as well as my childhood in France."

  3. came to you via brian pera. I love LB. Especially her spiders, but she is an amazing artist. Her spirit lives on. Am off to look for this book.