Louise Bourgeois: Nature Study
Inverleith House, Edinburgh, until Sun 6 Jul
It’s a weekday lunchtime in spring and the Royal Botanic Garden is teeming with new life. Mothers push buggies, primary school children dig into the earth and the plants are a riot of blossom and flower. It’s no different in Inverleith House where the 96-year-old Louise Bourgeois is celebrating the wonder of human life in all its messy, unforgiving glory.
To see her fertile exhibition of painting and sculpture, you have first to take in a display of botanical teaching diagrams owned and commissioned by Hutton Balfour, the Edinburgh-born plant expert who spent 34 years as regius keeper of the gardens in the mid-19th century. Attributed to painters RK Greville and John Sadler, the large illustrations of bulbous fruits in delicate turquoise, pink and green burst with the kind of bountiful reproductive energy rarely found in the classroom.
This botanical foreplay charges us up for the fecundity of Bourgeois’ big blotchy paintings. Using broad, cartoon-like paint strokes in pink, she repeats the image of a mother’s breasts, irregularly shaped, life giving and as bulbous as Balfour’s plants. Hungrily reaching for the nipple, the crudely outlined baby is all mouth and neediness, creating pictures that are as unsentimental about the gooey realities of childbirth as they are celebratory of the human life force.
Complementing the pictures are three sculptures – a foetus cocooned in a net, a cloth doll giving birth and a figure that’s half-woman half-plant – all justifying the generous slogan above the entrance: ‘I still believe in miracles.’