Who is she?
Marlene Dumas is a South African artist who now lives in Amsterdam. She is one of Holland’s most prolific artists.
What does she do?
She creates figurative works inspired by personal memories and a diverse array of printed matter including Polaroid photographs, newspaper and magazine cuttings, letters and Flemish paintings. Previously her subjects have spanned newborn babies, models, strippers and figures from popular culture, both alive and dead. Predominantly, she works in oil on canvas and ink on paper.
What are her key works?
The First People 1990, a quadriptych of oil paintings, each capturing a newborn baby. Each canvas measures a giant 180cm x 90cm.
Portrait Heads is a large series of inkwash drawings that Dumas began in 1991. The first set in the series was Black Drawings 1991–2 a collection of 114 portraits of black men and women.
The Painter 1994 is an oil on canvas work of a little girl, naked except for patches of paint, suggesting the subject is both the model and the painter.
What is ‘The Image as Burden’?
An oil on canvas work depicting a figure carrying another in their arms, completed by Dumas in 1993. Though the gender of the two is relatively ambiguous, the subjects are said to represent Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor from George Cukor’s romantic drama Camille (1936).
Dumas chose the name of the work as the title of the exhibition to capture the complexity of the relationship between painting and image.
I wanted to give more attention to what the painting does to the image, not only to what the image does to the painting.
What are her thoughts on paintings?
I would like my paintings to be like poems. Poems are like sentences that have taken their clothes off. The meaning of a poem is what its beat and rhythm do. How the words move on the page. Poetry is writing that breathes and makes jumps and leaves spaces open, so we can read between the lines.
What are her thoughts on live models?
I worry about what they think of me and I get even more worried about they think, I think of them. And then I lose the freedom of the amoral touch which for me is a prerequisite for making a good painting.
What are the recurring themes within her work?
Race, sexuality, guilt and innocence, violence and tenderness.
What do the critics say?
There is a heaviness to the paintings of the South African-born, Dutch-based artist Marlene Dumas, as if they might fall off the wall and break the floor.
Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, December 2008
Here are swollen pot-bellies and ribs that look like xylophones, wattled chins and twisted – even broken – necks. Some hold extremely graphic sexual poses. Others are blindfolded, or bound in duct tape. And every so often, there comes, transfixingly, a notorious face: Osama bin Laden, Naomi Campbell, Phil Spector with wig, and without. Dumas’s portraits tend to be contextless, her subjects’ faces and limbs floating disembodied, arranged for maximum drama on a washed-out backdrop.
Rachel Cooke, The Guardian, January 2015
One of the most provocative painters of the human form, the South African–born artist Marlene Dumas doesn’t match the stereotype of artist as solitary genius. Her way is chaotic, more responsive and uncertain — and that is her brilliance.
Claire Messud, The New York Times, August 2014