Welcome to the 75th issue (!) of Subtle Maneuvers. Thanks to everyone who’s been reading and sharing the newsletter these last twenty months, it means a lot! If you’re a new subscriber, you can always browse the full archive here.
Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010)
I’ve been savoring the latest issue of Apartamento, especially its fascinating collection of 1970s-era photos of the artist Louise Bourgeois’s New York City townhouse, which she bought with her husband, the art historian Robert Goldwater, in 1962. They lived there together until Goldwater’s death in 1973, and Bourgeois lived there alone for the next 37 years, gradually expanding her studio from its original location on the garden level until it took over almost the entire house.
Alongside the photos are two interviews conducted by Leah Singer, with the curators Jerry Gorovoy and Philip Larratt-Smith. The interview with Gorovoy is particularly revealing. He met Bourgeois in 1980, when he was 27 and she was 68, and—as he’s described elsewhere—became her assistant for the next 30 years.
In the Apartamento interview, Gorovoy details Bourgeois’s routine in the 1980s, when she was making smaller artworks at home and constructing large-scale sculptures at a studio in Brooklyn:
In the morning, Louise would eat teaspoonfuls of orange marmalade right out of the jar, which would give her a sugar high. I would pick her up from her home in Chelsea and we would drive to her studio in Brooklyn, or to the Modern Art Foundry in Queens. . . .
Louise liked to be alone in the studio with me. I knew when she needed me to keep my distance, and I knew when she wanted my help. She loved the silence of the studio. In that silence, she inhabited a sort of spell in which she brought her forms to life. Her creative moments were quite fragile. The least noise or sound could distract or break her concentration. She had this way of transferring her emotions and psychic life into her work. Her chosen materials, techniques, and the resulting forms were like polygraphs of her state of being in the moment. For lunch, we’d usually break for pizza with mushrooms, or, on special occasions, we’d head to downtown Brooklyn and go to Junior’s for cheesecake. After lunch, Louise liked to draw or write, and then—miraculously, around 3pm—she would get a second burst of energy and go back to sculpture. We usually drove back to the city around 4.30 or 5pm.
A pretty good routine! (Especially the pizza with mushrooms.) But Gorovoy notes that the quality of Bourgeois’s workday was also determined by how much she had slept the night before, or whether she had slept at all. As I’ve noted previously, Bourgeois suffered from insomnia, and when she couldn’t sleep she would sit up all night drawing in bed—and, according to Gorovoy, as she completed these drawings, she would toss them over the stairwell banister, so that he arrived the next morning to find the previous night’s pages waiting on the entryway floor.
BOURGEOIS ON FREUD
Bourgeois saw an analyst for many years, but she had mixed feelings about the father of psychoanalysis. “The truth is that Freud did nothing for artists, or for the artist’s problem, the artist’s torment,” she wrote. “To be an artist involves some suffering. That’s why artists repeat themselves—because they have no access to a cure.”
Bourgeois isn’t the only person I’ve read about who liked to drop completed work onto the floor for someone else to pick up. Edith Wharton worked in bed, writing longhand on sheets of paper that she dropped onto the bedroom floor for her secretary to retrieve and type up. Thomas Wolfe is another example. As I wrote in Daily Rituals:
Wolfe typically began writing around midnight, “priming himself with awesome quantities of tea and coffee,” as one biographer noted. Since he could never find a chair or table that was totally comfortable for a man of his height (Wolfe was 6’6”), he usually wrote standing up, using the top of the refrigerator as his desk. He would keep at it until dawn, taking breaks to smoke a cigarette at the window or pace through the apartment. Then he would have a drink and sleep until around 11:00. In the late morning Wolfe would begin another stretch of work, sometimes aided by a typist who would arrive to find the previous night’s pages scattered all over the kitchen floor.
If you’re aware of other examples, please me know in the comments!