I look at the paintings of the artist Marlene Dumas, thinking “Why do all of her subjects look so haunted and ghost like?” I looked through the images in the gallery on her website http://www.marlenedumas.nl and repeatedly saw the same type of look in all her work, although she uses a wide variation of people; babies, children, men, women of contrasting ages, they all share in common a death like quality.
When delving a little further into the artwork and background of this South African artist born in 1953, I came across a brief interview with Timeout magazine where Dumas talks about her work, she states “When I paint a dead person with their face turned away from you, for example, I’m asking: Can you still make a painting that holds your attention? ” Also quoted from an article about Dumas in Vogue “Prisoners in Abu Ghraib, corpses, pornography, racism, movie stills and fallen celebrities from Amy Winehouse to Phil Spector all appear in her works” this would then offer an explanation as to the ghostly dead look in some of her paintings and drawings. What is Marlene’s deep fascination with death and the broken?
In the interview with vogue Marlene Dumas says “I always quote Beckett,” she says, “‘Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.’ I often choose things that are quite tragic, and I know it’s not funny ha-ha, but there is definitely an element of humour.”
My favourite quote of Marlene Dumas’s is in the Time interview where she says “My better works are the works that embarrass me to do” this statement makes her relate-able. to me. Dumas also says in the same interview that at times she questions whether she should or should not create a piece of artwork, I realise then that I am in good company and am not the only artist who questions why am I thinking about creating a certain piece, will it be offensive? if so to whom? and if it’s something I strongly believe in shouldn’t I most definitely create it regardless of who it offends?
Image from Marlene Dumas website Measuring your own Grave
Marlene Dumas’ artwork gives me courage to not listen to the ‘naysayer’ in my head and move forward to create dangerous, challenging and thought provoking pieces of art regardless of the struggle with the subject matter. If it somehow scares me then it’s worth creating it, it will be a subject of conversation which is what we desire as creatives, to produce artwork that births a discussion.