Summary

Man, Keys, Phone, Clock is one in a portfolio of fourteen drypoint etchings collectively titled Autobiographical Series. It depicts a man sleeping, head resting on his arms, in front of keys, a telephone and a clock. The rows of keys hanging on individual hooks behind the sleeping man suggest that he is the receptionist of a hotel, dozing at his post. This is confirmed by an earlier title of this image, Hotel. The clock's hands are at one o'clock, possibly in the morning. Voyeurism is a theme frequently addressed in Bourgeois's works. In another image in this series, Toilette (P77682), a young woman is being spied on while she washes her hair. A further image, Sleeping Man (P77688), depicts a man sleeping in an armchair, while a little face, of uncertain gender, peeps at him from between the bars of a window. In Man, Keys, Phone, Clock Bourgeois is herself presumably the one looking at a man who, in sleep, is vulnerable to her gaze.

Bourgeois's work is based, more or less overtly, on memory. Through making art she is able to access and analyse hidden (but uncomfortable) feelings, resulting in cathartic release from them. She has said:

Some of us are so obsessed with the past that we die of it. It is the attitude of the poet who never finds the lost heaven and it is really the situation of artists who work for a reason that nobody can quite grasp. They might want to reconstruct something of the past to exorcise it. It is that the past for certain people has such a hold and such a beauty ... Everything I do was inspired by my early life.

(Bourgeois, p.133.)

Printmaking, like drawing, has been an important element in Bourgeois's artistic production. She first took it up in 1938, the year she moved to New York with her husband, the American art historian Robert Goldwater (1907-73). She experimented widely with techniques and effects, producing an important portfolio of etchings titled He Disappeared into Complete Silence (The Museum of Modern Art, New York) in the 1940s. After a long break she returned to printmaking in 1973, the year Goldwater died. In the late 1980s Bourgeois began collaborating with workshops and publishers. She started to rework and reprint some of her old plates and to create new portfolios. Several of the images in the Autobiographical Series had already appeared in earlier forms. They range broadly in time and concept, encompassing both specific memories and more abstracted and ambiguous states of being. The portfolio was published in an edition of thirty-five plus ten artist's proofs by Peter Blum Edition, New York, and printed by Harlan & Weaver Intaglio, New York. See Tate P77682-8 and P77690-5 for the other images in the series.

Further reading:
Louise Bourgeois, Marie-Louise Bernadac, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Destruction of the Father/Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews 1923-1997, London 1998
Charlotta Kotick, Terrie Sultan, Christian Leigh, Louise Bourgeois: The Locus of Memory, Works 1982-1993, The Brooklyn Museum, New York 1994
Deborah Wye, Carol Smith, The Prints of Louise Bourgeois, exhibition catalogue, The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1994

Elizabeth Manchester
July 2001