About Marlene Dumas and her art
Text written by Patricia Ellis
"My best works are erotic displays of mental confusions (with intrusions of irrelevant information)." Marlene Dumas
Marlene Dumas's provocative paintings of women, children, celebrities and people of colour are as psychologically disturbing as they are violently beautiful. Championing the under-represented classes, her characters occupy an unholy ground where the viewer's individual morality, ethics and adherence to ideological convention are questioned.
Marlene Dumas makes paintings with no concept of the taboo. Racism, sexuality, religion, motherhood and childhood are all presented with chilling honesty. Undermining universally held belief systems, Dumas corrupts the very way images are negotiated. Stripped of the niceties of moral consolation, Marlene Dumas's work provokes unmitigated horror. She offers no comfort to the viewer, only an unnerving complicity and confusion between victims and oppressors.
"It was my first time in a peepshow so when the girl smiled at me I said "Only looking", and she replied "That's how I got started here too"."
Removing the hierarchical value system of perception, Marlene Dumas presents unsettling truths as paintings because there is no other means to communicate their primal essence. Working from her own photos and pictures found in magazine and film archives, her canvases act as sociological studies. Subjects, already at one remove, are further physically and dispassionately distanced by her instinctive and disquieting painting style.
Often described as an 'intellectual expressionist', Marlene Dumas blurs the boundaries between painting and drawing. Bold lines and shapes mix seamlessly with ephemeral washes and thick gestural brushwork. By simplifying and distorting her subjects, Marlene Dumas creates intimacy through alienation. Her subjects' assertive stares suggest that her paintings aren't actually about them, but the viewer's own reaction to their perverse circumstance. With deceptive casualness, Marlene Dumas exposes the monstrous capacity belied by 'civilised' human nature.
Beneath Marlene Dumas's hard-hitting social dialogue is a deep-rooted ideological equality. As one of the most profoundly feminist contemporary artists, Marlene Dumas uses painting as a means to personally navigate history. Her holistic approach to creation and subject undermines the discomfort and restriction of traditional rationale. Embracing the totality of human experience, Marlene Dumas finds an eternal beauty not in immediate pleasure, but in the timeless gap between the cherished and unspeakable.