Louise Bourgeois: Works On Paper at Tate Modern

The Tate Modern in London are currently exhibiting Louise Bourgeois’ ‘Works on Paper’… and it’s free to enter! There are four rooms displaying a selection of her prints, books, fabric and paint drawings. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about Bourgeois prior to going along to this exhibition and I absolutely fell in love with her work. Bourgeois was a French-American artist and is considered to be the founding mother of Confessional Art.

'Mother Spider'

‘Mother Spider’

Bourgeois is mostly noted for her sculpture works and is even known as ‘Spiderwoman’ from her 30ft spider sculpture. She has said of her spider sculptures that they represent her mother. Her family worked in tapestry restoration, where she learnt her textile skills and her mother was a textile weaver. She said that the spider is also a weaver and like her mother is clever and protective. Her mother had become ill with influenza when she was young and her father started to have affairs. From the age of 11, Louise watched her father’s on-going betrayal with her nanny and her mother’s acceptance, or rather a chosen ignorance, of his infidelity.

Walking around the exhibition, Bourgeois’ self, emotion, memory, pain and questions are all in her work. Her work is autobiographical and much of it is strongly feminine, promoting the nature and nurture of woman, whilst also questioning their roles.

Some of her work could be considered explicit, but I like the way that she is open, exposed, raw in all our human and animalistic beauty. Her work is uncensored, unafraid to be and anarchistic towards the notion of art censorship. The gouache collection is a number of simply painted forms, the last of her works, each with their own meaning or story. At times I felt like I was viewing a visual diary and each page represented a different day or event in her life. This collection of her work focuses mostly on family, motherhood and the role of the woman as a mother. The red colour representing blood, passion and love.

'Pregnant Woman'

‘Pregnant Woman’

'Feeding Time'

‘Feeding Time’




Bourgeois suffered a long period with insomnia and used to draw or sketch when she couldn’t sleep. The ‘Insomnia Drawings’ are a selection of works displayed together as another piece of her personal journey. She spent years seeing a psychoanalyst every week and as much as her work is a personal expression of her life, it is also an analysis of her experiences, emotions and questions.






Spirals feature throughout Bourgeois’s work – both on paper and in her sculpture, which she has said remind her of control, freedom and of strangulation. I found her work incredibly moving, with a deep sadness, anger and pain coming through in many of her works. Bourgeois suffered with depression and she manifests her trauma and pain from her head and her heart into her work, with abstraction and surrealism.

La Nausee

La Nausee

'Spiral Woman'

‘Spiral Woman’


‘Nature Study’, 1986



Also on display were some  of her etchings, such as ‘Love and Kisses’. These drawings are all abstract, flower-like and depict her themes of feminism, relationships and love. Her art really does depict her heart and thoughts and seems like her own cathartic experience of dealing and healing from her pains. This exhibition gives a personal and intimate insight in to the life and mind of a personal artist. Although her sculpture and other works are of a confessional and autobiographical nature, her works on paper seem more so. Perhaps this is because they seem more sketch-like, rough and in-the-moment, rather than something  thought out and planned.

'Love and Kisses', 2007

‘Love and Kisses’, 2007


The exhibition runs until 12th April 2015. For more information click here. If you can’t get to London then Louise Bourgeois’ sculpture is being exhibited in Southampton until 18th April 2015 – ‘A Woman Without Secrets’, in the Artist Rooms at the City Gallery. You can find more information here.

You can find Bourgeois resources at 709.2 BOU in Library 1 and we also have a selection of DVDs about her work – come and ask us if you need any help locating resources.


Robynne Willowby, March 2015