THE PROVOCATIVE PAINTER OF THE HUMAN BODY
Marlene Dumas explores the gorgeous and grotesque sides of sex, love and death
by Ellie Howard
Marlene Dumas is one of the most significant painters working today, yet she has been recently described as the world’s “most unfamous famous living artist.” A woman of grand hand gesticulations and beautiful contradictions, in a rhythmic Afrikaans accent she speaks visually, rather than in verse “there is no beauty, if it does not show some of the terribleness of life”.
Growing up in the midst of the Apartheid, Dumas left her native Capetown for Amsterdam in 1976, and naturally a deeply South African upbringing has left its mark upon her work. Severe media censorship meant that Dumas has little access to movies and art, compelling her to find inspiration from newspaper clipping and magazine imagery. In doing so, she has amassed a personal archive of images that she has drawn herself, all carefully stored at her ‘office’ studio.
A painter known for her intimate, yet controversial work she possesses a confrontational approach towards life; sex and death, often merging existentialist themes with personal experiences. Yet her work seeks not to condemn humanity, rather to explore the need for freedom from physical, political or psychological oppression.
Known for her tarnished Neo-Expressionistic brush-worked canvases, she gives new meaning to the medium of painting. Portraits are diverse in subject; from infants, sex workers to terrorists and supermodels to corpses, anonym to famous, Dumas paints those on the fringes of life’s cycle. Dumas’s ghostly subjects exist somewhere between the living and the dead. Their waxen faces are bluish or richly bruised in appearance and fleshy contours are marked out by trickles of thinning oil paint. Carefully taking the image and recreating it, she searches for meaning within her reinterpretation. The intensity behind Dumas’s painting is derived from her sincere questioning – she asks us to look at how we create an image of somebody in our minds.
"Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden"is at the Tate Modern from Feb 5 - 10 May 2015