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Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois paintings and the elements of design they utilize are examples to all those who appreciate Contemporary Art.

Yeah! Yeah! So there is a woman in the corner of a gallery in the BAMPFA giving birth to a little man made of blood-red gouache. Who cares?! As a matter of fact Louise Bourgeois’ The Birth may gravitate people to it far before they realize it is catapulting life into the basement of the museum. From a distance, it’s soft yet radiant reds and organic shape seem to be the most luring features. Sure it may appear sexual, but no more than a flower in Spring. And as exciting as this act in such a looked upon location may be, there are plenty of wonderful formal attributes to this work as well.

An Example of Louise Bourgeois Paintings

These Contemporary Louise Bourgeois paintings are beautiful and loud all at once. The Birth by Louise Bourgeois is only made of red gouache on white paper in 2007. Within the bounds of this paper that measure about 17 by 11 inches a bright red, large, headless figure seems to lay back and give birth in the center. The woman’s legs stretch completely across the length of the paper and her breasts jut toward but don’t reach the top. The figure that is reared is a smaller frantic figure with their arms stretched downward but not reaching the edge also in red. The torso that connects with the woman is thin and tight, but the body seems to grow bigger and more naturalistic as it emerges. It’s head is a bit smudged and lighter than the rest of the shapes. All of the red gouache looks very organic light lipstick that has sat in a bucket of water for a day. It’s obviously a frantic, gooey, maybe even controversial mess of childbirth, but a conservative babysitter handling their young could easily describe it as a lovely abstract collection of red hue.

louise bourgeois paintings

There are many compositional elements at work in Louise Bourgeois paintings. A great deal of background and white space is implemented shamelessly around the subjects. This is a strong utilization of negative space. This hands the positive space over to the birth in progress. The balance here is obvious too. Clearly the woman’s legs cut the canvas in half horizontally. This makes a space above for the woman to stretch upward and an inverted space below for the newborn to reach straight down. Proportion also lends to the image’s feel. The woman’s legs are big and thick and it’s not just because some like them thick! This application makes the figure foreshortened and lends to it’s illusion of a third dimension. Space, balance, and proportion are three compositional traits used skillfully in this work.

Shape is another basic design element used in Louise Bourgeois paintings. All of the shapes here look very natural. This is because they are organic or curvilinear in style which is basically the opposite of linear shapes that look like rectangles. The shapes are like those from nature like the circumference of a lake or the pedals of a flower. And though Bourgeois’ shapes are natural, they also are bold. The shapes are all enclosed. This creates a very distinct separation between the background and foreground. Again are seen elements at play such as organic and enclosed shapes.

There’s also much to be said about color and value here. The predominate color obviously has an obvious relationship with the title, The Birth. It should be pretty obvious why the artist used red paint for this work. But there’s many more interesting things to say about the application of this fire engine red. The color is alarming like there’s an emergency! Pink would definitely not have nearly the amount of saturation that this red Red has. It’s a minimal piece, however there are some dark reds as well. There are a few dark shadows around the breasts, the one side of the large tummy, and the bottom of the thighs. These minimal darker colors lend to give the figure a small amount of depth. Also, on the other end of the spectrum, it’s important to mention it’s transparencies. There is thinness overall in the patchy, organic, even messy application of gouache especially in the head of the newly born figure that seems to be smudged. This gives it depth and character as well. Now it should be clear how color, saturation, shadow, and transparency are used in this work.

It’s worth quickly mentioning texture as well. The actual texture and feel of the paper even while covered in paint is probably fairly smooth and clean. Even the edges of the paper are straight and neat. However it’s visible how the almost completely free-flowing paint gives Louise Bourgeois paintings a more amoebic and biological feeling. This element of design is called texture.

Despite the obvious implications here, some of the elements of design are being implied as well. For instance the use of a strong white background is important in Louise Bourgeois paintings. As mentioned earlier the huge negative space creates a strong distinction between the positive and negative space. This technique creates a strong spatial relationship for the viewer. There’s another reinforcement of that space as well. The enclosed shapes all further distinguish those spaces. Both of these things create a positive space that appears to hover like a separate layer on top of the paper. This is all similar to depth. Depth here is created by foreshortening. The two figures are larger in the front and smaller in the back. This is an age old method used to create a sense of receding depth. This illusion is further strengthened by another design element. Louise Bourgeois is no exception when it comes to using shading. The dark stripes of red seem to give the figure a core shadow and a simple but obvious notion of depth. Lastly a lively feeling is strong here. The texture and application of the paint lend to a very apparent feeling of these two bodies being alive. It’s a great example of how something like texture can implicate something larger. So here is space, depth, and vibrancy being implied by background, positive space, negative space, foreshortening, shading, and texture.

For stuffy Contemporary Art historians all of these attributes may seem fascinating, but the rest might be interested in what’s really happening with these design elements. These dusty textbook definitions are actually great master schemers. Each of these elements of design are deployed with the others in mind. The visuals all work cooperatively with one another to achieve the artist’s will in Louise Bourgeois paintings. Even those stale historians must be interested in what end game these elements of design are working so diligently together on. In this example it’s clear that all of the seemingly simple design choices are working together to direct the attention of the viewer. (In this case the viewer might be a visitor to The BAMPFA.) This is why visitors are drawn to the corner of the gallery from even across the way. The artist and the elements of design that she’s so wisely chosen have created something beautiful and captivating. The elements of these Louise Bourgeois paintings all work together to create visually shocking and bold images that seems to define the two dimensions of the papers and come out of the page. This has created a brilliant and magnetic appearance to visitors of the museum. The elements are not merely present to look pretty they are really working to arrest the attention of viewers in a strong and creative way.

It’s evident in people’s mere responses to the work that the artist was successful and has some skill with her craft. This particular piece seems minimal and some might criticize that it would be easily and hastily made. However sometimes images simple in appearance take decades to make. This is because in creating images a skilled artist will create a goal and incorporate intention. Louise Bourgeois has obviously set out to make an audacious picture. It’s clear just by observing all the mentioned elements in Louise Bourgeois paintings working together that she has done what she set out to do. In image alone these Louise Bourgeois paintings are strong and courageous and can easily stir up a response or reaction. It takes a skilled crafter to bridge that reaction with work. More specifically a good artist will have knowledge of all her available tools. Bourgeois is a superior artist of her craft because she uses all her tools and all the elements of design to create vivid, bold, emotional, beautiful, and even controversial pieces of Louise Bourgeois paintings. The artist has certainly succeeded and utilized her craft to formulate a powerful response.


It’s remarkable the things that can be done with something learned in a simple Design 1 college course. People go in as aspiring artists and leave with the tools to tell stories, tell lies if need be, and even to evoke thoughts and emotions from mere strangers. This is visible in Louise Bourgeois paintings. Louise Bourgeois and The Birth are no exceptions. She attracts visitors to a wonderfully scented flower and send them away trying to remove the sticky peanut butter feeling from their mouths. As seen in this work, simple elements of design can create a wide variety of actions and feelings among people.

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Topher is the proud creator and editor of Culture Hog.


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