Sculptor Louise Bourgeois (American/French, b.1911) is regarded as one of the most successful living female artists.
She was born in Paris in 1911 and trained with Léger in France before settling in New York when she married the American art historian Robert Goldwater in 1938. A abstract sculptor, she first worked with wood constructions painted black or white and then worked in different materials such as stone, metal or latex. She became one of the leading American contemporary sculptors and if her work is abstract it is often suggestive of the human figure.
Her hand-colored artbook the puritan, was conceived and written in 1947, but she did not begin making it until 1989. Working with publisher Benjamin Shiff, Bourgeois chose the text and the illustrations, which were based on drawings on colored paper done in 1988 using pencil, colored ink, and gouache. The Sweet Briar College edition, number 32, was completed in 1996.
Like other artbooks, it is a combination of text and original art. It is an evocative combination of a poetic fable-like text with purified modernist architectonic images. According to Bourgeois herself, "with the puritan I analyzed an episode forty years after it happened. I could see things from a distance... I put it on a grid. Geometry was a tool to understanding... " (this quote, and much of the following material, is drawn from The Prints of Louise Bourgeois by Deborah Wye and Carol Smith, Museum of Modern Art, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994).
The puritan was not the only book Bourgeois conceived in 1947; in fact, it was one of at least three texts. A second book was actually completely produced in 1947 and bears some similarity to the puritan. Entitled He Disappeared into Complete Silence, this book also combines fairy-tale-like text with engravings (9 of them). In this book, however, each page has a different short tale. Included in the Grimmish narratives are stories of love, architecture, anger, violence, abandonment, and selfishness.
Although, according to Deborah Wye and Carol Smith, Bourgeois cautioned us not to link the prints too closely to the narratives, the surreal illustrations picture wooden figures, threatening contraptions, exposed elevator shafts, and gallow-like constructions, which heighten the emotion of the often visceral narratives. Whereas the artist discussed geometry as the overarching philosophical tenet of the puritan, she described He Disappeared... as "a drama of the self... It is about the fear of going overboard and hurting others. Controlling oneself is always the goal... so one will not project one's own violence on others." This book she called "a descent... a descent into depression. But I believe in resurrection in the morning. This is a withdrawal, but it is temporary. You lose your self-esteem, but you pull yourself up again. This is about survival... about the will to survive." According to Wye and Smith, the production of this book was a tremendous effort for Bourgeois: Bourgeois herself said, "It was a real exorcism just to get all the prints out."