"Material is only material. It is there to serve you and give you the best it can. If you are not satisfied, if you want more, you go to another material." Louise Bourgeois, New York, April 11, 1989
Painted in the late 1940s, Roof Story is a joyous work that gives no hint of its maker's life at that time. In this self-portrait Bourgeois, her hair blowing in air like angel wings, wears a smile from ear to ear. Keeping her company is a piece of sculpture buoyantly rising with her. And her joy is palpable.
Her birth on Christmas Day was an auspicious debut; so too her parents, proprietors of a Parisian antiques gallery. But childhood was a difficult time for Louise, leaving wounds she would later explore in her art.
Paris in the 1930s, les annees folles (the Crazy Years as the French called them) was awash with ferment in the arts. Bourgeois was a student at the Sorbonne who earned free tuition by tutoring other students in English. On the one hand the Surrealists repelled Bourgeois with their excesses and self-regard; on the other she was impressed by the modesty and adherence to the formalities of design among artists who would be dubbed "Art Deco" only in the book of the same name by Bevis Hillier in 1966.
Of the media that Bourgeois would turn her hand to, painting comes last, possibly because she abandoned it early in her career to concentrate on sculpture Her years of painting spanned about a decade after she had moved with her husband in 1938 to New York. There she continued her studies at the Art Students' 'League. The birth of two sons only complicated her adjustment to life in America. Neverthelessshe completed around one hundred paintings, no small achievement.
Roof Story may not be a typical work but it is all the more treasurable for showing us that for Louise Bourgeois art was not only about storm and stress but also a source of joy.
Image: Louise Bourgeois -- Roof Story, 1946-48, oil on canvas, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.