Transformation is at the core of Bourgeois’s treatment of objects as artistic motifs. In her very early prints, chairs, tables, clocks, bathtubs and storage cabinets take on amplified meanings as they loom large in her depicted world and share space with family members. In the later 1940s and 1950s, she shifted to figural presences, which would dominate her sculpture.
Her practice of imbuing common objects with symbolic functions becomes palpable in sculptures of the late 1960s, like the fierce marble Femme Couteau, in which a woman turns herself into a knife, or the equally threatening bronze object Molotov Cocktail, a vivid reference to the rioters of the era. For Bourgeois, “Symbols are indispensable...these things are very, very clear, very simple—and absolutely devastating.”
Bourgeois filled her Cells of the 1990s and 2000s with a variety of everyday objects gathered from her house or studio, most saved for many years. She carefully placed perfume bottles, spools of thread, mirrors, lanterns, and old furnishings like tables, chairs, stools, and beds in close proximity to her sculptural works, giving all these objects added resonance. They are further transformed by the contexts of these strange room-like structures. In later prints and drawings, Bourgeois gave objects anthropomorphic qualities. Scissors are seen giving birth to baby scissors in one drypoint and aquatint, and an eroticized bed is the primary subject of a large group of printed compositions. Bourgeois described beds as “erotic objects…where you lie with your husband, where your children were born and you will die.”