Louise Bourgeois

Untitled (Safety Pins)


Not on display

Louise Bourgeois 1911–2010
Drypoint on paper
Image: 303 × 379 mm
Purchased 1994


This is the final state of an etching which exists in three states. Bourgeois often makes several versions of her prints over a number of years. The third state of this print was published in 1991 in an edition of sixty by Peter Blum Editions, New York. It was printed by Harlan & Weaver Intaglio, New York. This is the eighth in the edition. An alternative title for this image is The Burning Pin. In 1993 Bourgeois added the title Safety Pins.

Bourgeois grew up in a tapestry restoring establishment run by her parents in Choisy, France. She moved to New York in 1938 and began making prints in the same year. During the 1940s she worked primarily in painting, drawing and printmaking, but abandoned printmaking in 1949, only to return to it in 1973. Since then she has produced a large volume of prints which echo, reinforce and enlarge the themes of her sculptures. She has experimented widely with various techniques, taking pleasure in the appropriateness of the tools and materials for the expression of a particular emotion. The engraving burin and drypoint needle which scratch deeply into metal surfaces provide a powerful metaphor for potential aggression and destruction which may be transformed, through their use in a controlled and thoughtful manner, into tools of creation. For Bourgeois, just as the sewing needle represents a tool for healing, the safety pin, despite its sharp and potentially hurtful point, provides a means of support. She has commented: ‘I like the idea of the safety pin ... it is dangerous, but it holds up my whole attire. Safety pins can keep things together ... they can prevent catastrophe ... It is conversion of something aggressive and mean into something acceptable.’ (Quoted in Wye, p.23.)

In this image the spiralling lines refer to Bourgeois’s fear of losing control. She has explained spirals as having two aspects relating to direction: the spiral going inwards becomes an excessively wound-up emotional state leading to internal twisting and strangulation; going outwards it refers to what the artist has described as an escalating vision that goes too high and becomes another form of craziness (Wye, p.141). Bourgeois has described the spirals in this image as being ‘like a thread of thought ... or a dance ... you go here, you go there ... you keep reaching out to others. It is wishful.’ Following the thread from one spiral to another, the artist has explained, ‘You can not hurt me ... you can not stop me ... you can not break my thread of thought. I make it into a pattern ... it is a kind of grid ... there is order.’ (Quoted in Wye, p.164.) In this way the artist visualises for herself a creative structural defence against her fears of disempowerment.

Further reading:
Deborah Wye, Carol Smith, The Prints of Louise Bourgeois, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1994, pp.164-5, reproduced p.165
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, New York 1994

Elizabeth Manchester
July 2000/July 2003

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