Louise Bourgeois turned to sculpture in the late 1940s when the constraints of the two-dimensional canvas and the inherent abstraction of painting proved too limiting as a means of expression. Bourgeois' work, rooted in the Surrealist tradition, expresses an underlying psychological and emotional sensibility, allowing the artist to create while exploring and exorcising the unconscious.
Bourgeois, the middle child of a domineering father and devoted mother, relates the thrust of her work to her early childhood and the family that openly included her father's mistress, once Bourgeois' English tutor. The tense, overt sexual dynamics had a powerful impact on the artist who would devote her career to exploring physical and psychological relationships and subtle sexual politics within them. Her sculptures of the 1940s were composed groupings of carved wood totems, abstract in shape and painted in uniform color. In the 1960s, her work, which retained its Surrealist undertones, expanded in size and was executed in bronze, carved stone, and rubber latex.
'Eyes' is a remarkable example of Bourgeois' late works, emblematic of the formal issues she has expressed and continues to express throughout her work and aesthetic vocabulary. 'Eyes' consists of two massive round granite spheres with a carved circular pupil or 'nipple' at each center, pointing upwards at a slant. The work shows the persistence of Surrealist iconography in her late work; and the eye, a recurring motif in Surrealism, serves as both a symbol for the act of perception and as an allusion to female anatomy. The ambiguity of sex is predominant in the span of Bourgeois' career, yet the titles never give away the works' obvious sexual connotations. In an earlier marble work, 'Janus Fleuri' from 1968, a similar sexual duality exists. While the title refers to the double-faced Roman God, the work illustrates a double-sided penis.
In the 1970s, the reclamation of the passive female body from the dominant male gaze became one of the major enterprises of feminist art. Bourgeois often confounds by combining the physical manifestations of male and female within a single piece, as in the case of 'Eyes'. Feminists argued that men survey women before treating them. Consequently, how a woman appears to a man can determine how she will be treated by him. To acquire some control over this process, women must contain it and interiorize it. In 'Eyes', Bourgeois plays on this argument by referring to the male gaze of the female breasts, stereotypically that part of the female anatomy that attracts the attention of most the most.
'Eyes' represents a clear articulation of the formal and psychological issues that Bourgeois has explored throughout her career, and which continue to interest her today. 'Eyes' seems at once to be a meditation on independence and co-dependence, on form and metaphor, and subtler relationships between the sexes.