In an untitled work on paper from 1989, Bourgeois drew three fat maggots, their pale bodies stark against a black background. Recognizing that some might recoil at this tender depiction of creatures associated with rot and death, she countered that maggots are “not a negative subject at all…however hard things are, there is still hope if you believe in maggots. Something has decomposed, and it is from that decomposition that hope comes again.”
Bourgeois’s abiding love of all of nature stemmed from a childhood spent surrounded by it. She grew up in homes near rivers and tending the plot that her father carved out for her in a garden filled with fruit trees, edible plants, flowers, and an assortment of animals. The flora and fauna of her childhood terrain, and the rivers, mountains, and clouds, became stand-ins in her work for the artist, her family, and her emotions. “The metaphors in nature are very strong…nature is a mode of communication,” she once said.
Perhaps foremost among her nature-derived motifs was the spider. “I see the spider as the savior,” she explained. “It saves us from mosquitoes. But if you want to detest spiders, it’s not against the law.”
Spiders appeared in her drawings and prints beginning in the 1940s and, by the 1990s, had become a frequent presence across all of her work—including as monumental sculptures that might make arachnophobes quake. But Bourgeois saw spiders as protective, clever, and inventive, qualities she loved in her mother and wanted to emulate in her own homemaking.