domenica 6 luglio 2008


by Sue Williamson (December, 2007)

'Art is a lie that makes us realise truth', said Picasso, and perhaps this has never been as true as when applied to the work of the internationally famous painter, Marlene Dumas. Taking as her source material photographs from an eclectic range of media, from family snapshots to news journals and porno magazines, Dumas paints her way into the very essence of the image, using it to work out an idea which the artist has conceived. The painting that emerges almost invariably engages the viewer at a deeply visceral and emotional level, with a power that far transcends the photographic original. The spotlight of her gaze upon her subject is clear and merciless, yet tender and ambiguous.

Her 1991 series, First People, portrays four dyspeptic babies, each almost two metres high. Originally photographed from above as they lay on their backs, now painted vertically, the babies, with their cross faces, distended bellies, flailing arms and scrawny little legs radiate a furious energy. The artist has jammed them into the picture frame like dolls in boxes which are slightly too small, thus increasing, as she often does, the level of discomfort.

Another case in point: Dumas' monochromatic watercolour portraits. I do not believe there is another artist, living or dead, who has been able to master to the same instinctive level the art of the diluted black ink wash on paper, painting wet on wet, the features of the portrait sometimes barely suggested with a swift black flick or swirl, yet devastatingly accurate, instantly recognisable as a particular human being. In her studio, Dumas lines sheets of paper up on the floor, working from one to the next. Often, these portraits will be shown as large scale grids of images, such as The Next Generation, a series of 66 images donated to Iziko, the South African National Gallery.

Cape Town born, studying at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Dumas left for the Netherlands after graduation to study further at the Ateliers 63 in Haarlem. She has been living in Holland ever since, though her links to her homeland remain strong, and her support of local artists and art institutions like the SANG and the Constitutional Court art collection have been steadfast.

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