Louise Bourgeois, ‘Spider’ 1994
Louise Bourgeois
Spider 1994
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by the Easton Foundation 2013
Photo: Christopher Burke, © The Easton Foundation

A weaver, sewer and designer

Louise Bourgeois was all three!

She was born in Paris on Christmas Day, 1911. As a young girl, Bourgeois enjoyed being in her parents’ busy tapestry studio, helping with dyeing cloth, weaving and sewing. Tapestries are thick pieces of fabric with pictures or designs, which are made by weaving different coloured threads. They are quite rare to see but they are usually hung on walls like paintings. Bourgeois would often draw designs for tapestry sections that needed to be repaired.

Telling stories through art

Louise Bourgeois, ‘Man, Keys, Phone, Clock’ 1994
Louise Bourgeois
Man, Keys, Phone, Clock 1994
© The Easton Foundation

"Tell your own story and you will be interesting"

Louise Bourgeouis wanted her art to tell stories.

Her life wasn’t always easy. As she got older, Bourgeois wrote about many sad things that had happened in her childhood – the horrors of the First World War, her mother’s illness and her parents’ troubled marriage. She collected all these emotional memories and used them to tell stories in her art.

mishmash sculptures

Louise Bourgeois, ‘Cell (Eyes and Mirrors)’ 1989–93
Louise Bourgeois
Cell (Eyes and Mirrors) 1989–93
© The Easton Foundation

Bourgeois started out as a painter, but when she moved to New York she started making sculpture. She created her first pieces on the roof of her home. They were towering stacks of wood inspired by the skyscrapers she saw all around her.

Some of her most famous sculptures that she created were called cells that she made in the 1990s.

These were large sculptures filled with objects she had collected over the years- so a real mishmash of objects! With their walls, windows and doors, they look like rooms or cages. You can enter some of her cells and look closely at the objects inside, but others you can only look into. Some of them are dark, dramatically lit and a little bit scary!

What do you think of the sculpture above? The two black circles near the bottom half have been reflected by the mirror at the top of the sculpture. They almost look like eyes!

Have a go

Plan a "cell" of your own. What would you put in it? Would you fill it with things from your home?

If you stepped inside your "cell" would you feel happy or scared? Surprised or angry?

Are spiders artists?

Can you feel your spider senses tingling? Well they should be as we're about to move on to a LOT of spider goodness (or badness if you're scared of spiders!)

Louise Bourgeois, ‘Maman’ 1999
Louise Bourgeois
Maman 1999
© The Easton Foundation

Bourgeois loved spiders, and she made hundreds of drawings and sculptures of them throughout her career. She described the spider as an artist. It could spin thread and create magnificent webs. It could also mend things. Remember, Bourgeois grew up in a place where there was spinning, weaving and repairing – her parents’ tapestry workshop.

She called many of the sculptures Maman, which is French for mother. She once said that she thought of spiders as "helpful, protective and clever", like her own mother.

Imagine walking into a gallery and looking up to see a giant spider’s body and spiky legs towering over you!

write your own spidey poem

Do you think spiders are scary or misunderstood? Are they actually artists and master weavers or horrible monsters?

Write down some words you think best describe spiders and then create a 5 line poem!