Beset By Fears - Poem by gershon hepner
The artist, when beset by fears,
unable to confront the world,
with his emotions in arrears
since from his soul they have been hurled,
cannot resolve them with a brush,
or chisel or computer key,
until he senses the loud hush
that sets his inspiration free.
This hush won’t help him to resolve
the fears that paralyzed his skill,
but will enable him to solve
the conflict between mind and will
that he records with brush or chisel
or with computer keys he presses,
and though the fears will rarely fizzle,
he can accommodate the stresses
they cause, and so confront again
the world and the emotions which
return like waters to a fen
which had been drier than a ditch.
Inspired by a review of an exhibition of art by Louise at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, June 27–September 28,2008; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, October 26,2008– January 25,2009; and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., February 26–May 17,2009:
For viewers not already versed in her themes and the symbolic interpretations associated with her art, much of Bourgeois's earlier work may also come across as simply mystifying, if not inert. At the artist's current traveling retrospective, recently at the Guggenheim Museum and soon to be exhibited in Los Angeles, we are presented with sculpture, dating from the late 1940s, in wood, bronze, marble, plaster, and such materials as plastic, wax, and hemp. The story these pieces tell is a kind of psychic pilgrim's progress. We follow the development of someone who, believing that her fears represent her deepest truths, slowly and bumpily develops a greater degree of self-confidence—which may explain why her art becomes clearer and freer over time. Some of Bourgeois's earliest pieces, as it happens, are charming and witty. They are narrow, upright, sparingly painted wood carvings that resemble figures and appear to be a synthesis of tribal art and characters observed at a cocktail party. Almost as engaging are a number of more purely abstract, painted wood pieces from the early 1950s, which are like sentinels or prototypes for garden statuary….
With Bourgeois's explanations, we learn that the narrow, upright carvings she showed at her first exhibition, in 1949, look as if they might fall over, and that is part of the point. Bourgeois made them (and many other pieces over the years that include possibly unstable vertical elements) in such a way as to reflect both her fears of literally falling down and her belief that somehow she had the strength not to crash. Her spiders, which can seem primarily threatening (and are embodiments of industriousness for the artist, as it turns out) , might just as well be making the same point about a fought-for balance. The seemingly shapeless plaster pieces from the 1960s that resemble cocoons or sacks, or can recall piles of noodles coiling around each other, tell yet another symbolic story. They are about a need for a safe, sheltering place, a hideout that will serve during those times when the artist, beset by fears, cannot face the world.
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