When Tracey Emin met Louise Bourgeois

Shortly before her death last year, Louise Bourgeois collaborated with Tracey Emin. The two artists shared a passion for works about sexuality and intimacy – and the results are certainly startling, says Arifa Akbar

Three months before Louise Bourgeois died at the age of 98, the increasingly frail, albeit incorrigible artist is believed to have sat up in bed in keen, childlike excitement, after hearing the news that her 16 gouache canvases had finally returned to her, though not in the half-finished form in which they had left her two years previously.

The canvases had been a long time coming but they had returned, completed. Bourgeois had sent a set of figurative watercolours to the British artist Tracey Emin, after an initial meeting with her more than five years ago which developed first into a friendship, and finally into a rare working relationship – Bourgeois had always shown hesitancy in working with artists during the bulk of her long, illustrious career.

She was, that mild morning, thrilled by what she saw. Emin had agonised over her part in the project, daunted by the images as "precious objects in their own right", and such was her nervousness that she had resisted putting paint to canvas for over a year, taking the half-finished pieces with her on trips as far afield as Australia and France, until finally deciding on how to proceed. The results will be unveiled at Hauser & Wirth Gallery in London this week, in the exhibition Do Not Abandon Me, which has travelled from the Carolina Nitsch Project Room in New York.

For Emin, it was a relief to hear that Bourgeois – a famously outspoken tour de force, who, in 1982, became the first female artist to have a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art – had been so thrilled by the end result.

The collaboration came after Emin wrote a vivid account of the emotional impact that a first visit to Bourgeois' home had made on her: "I was feeling vulnerable but at the same time excited. I was going to meet Louise Bourgeois. In my mind's eye, I had imagined many conversations. I often do that with artists I respect," she wrote, reflecting on the moments before her arrival at the dark, cavernous New York house, to find Bourgeois, initially spiky (shouting volubly in her native French) and utterly mesmerising to meet.

"The first time I saw her she was screaming, shouting, angry, shaking her fist," she remembered. "The only word I could decipher was a name: 'Sadie, Sadie, Sadie'. I just remember thinking: this woman's free. But the irony was that even though this woman was being emotionally free, she was making references to the emotional entrapment of her life...

"I stared at her hands, and I imagined them chiselling and hammering. I imaged her fighting with lumps of stone, attacking clay, washing and throwing countless objects into vats of plaster. I looked into her eyes and imagined her obsessed, drawing spiral after spiral, the collective mental patterns of our minds."

It was after Emin's evocative piece in Parkett art magazine in 2008 that Bourgeois expressed her interest in a series of joint works. It was clear from Emin's homage that Bourgeois was someone she had enduringly admired – "I looked at Louise Bourgeois's work for years trying to work out what I really thought about it. Why is it so good? Because of the honesty" – and critics have often commented on intersecting themes and obsessions in the two artists' work.

Neil Wenman, the director of Hauser & Wirth Gallery, says Emin and Bourgeois began having "conversations and meetings every six months after their original meeting", until Bourgeois produced her series of gouaches featuring male and female torsos, pregnant women's bellies and erect phalluses.

Emin then added to them with mirror writing across silhouetted forms, as well as foetuses and miniature female figures. The images range from passionate to mournful and vulnerable, with a mischievous play on scale in which tiny female figures are depicted embracing giant, flame-red penises (in Too Much Love and And So I Kissed You) or sitting atop them (in A Million Ways to Cum). A religious theme emerges in Come unto Me, which features two women as worshipping icons, praying beneath a giant phallus that is superimposed with a Crucifix. The completed images were printed with archival dyes on cloth, and will now be sold in an edition of 18 sets with six artist proofs.

Wenman thinks that the artists' collaboration may have been so seamless and successful because they both engage with themes around female subjectivity, motherhood and sexuality.

"Both their underlining preoccupations revolve around sexuality, emotional dependency, the family unit and ideas of intimacy. They are both dealing with confessional and autobiographical subject matter and they both have a history of making art using fabric, blankets, embroidery."

Yet there are differences, and these also resonate in this collaborative work: "They both deal with different aspects of a woman's life – Tracey, with her rape, abortions and realising she can't be a mother and how this affects her as a woman. Louise deals with birth and motherhood in a different way [she had three children]. Tracey's issues are a bit more explicit but the two artists have a very strong crossover.

"You can see the two artists' hands in this series. You look at the watercolour, and it is very Louise Bourgeois, and you look at the texts on them, and it's archetypal Tracey Emin, yet the final work is unified."

What is extraordinary in this collaboration also, is that it was so rare for Bourgeois to work in this way. "The fact that she worked with Tracey so late in her career," thinks Wenman, "was testimony to the friendship that they found with each other."

The collaboration was open-ended, with neither artist defining the terms or themes. In this regard, it was founded on mutual trust, says Wenman. "The idea was that Tracey would add her own interpretation to Louise's outlines and watercolours. They did not need to discuss each image. Rather, [the process] itself became the open conversation."

Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin: Do Not Abandon Me, Hauser & Wirth, London W1 ( www.hauserwirth.com) 18 February to 12 March

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower