Marlene Dumas is not someone I was consciously aware of before although some of her images do look familiar. I don’t know if that is because I have seen them or because her work often involves recognisable faces.
The Tate website has a great quote from Dumas it is important “to give more attention to what the painting does to the image, not only to what the image does to the painting.” Given Dumas does not work from life but from “second-hand” images this makes sense. In other words, she doesn’t start with a blank canvas and build up a new image she starts with an image and transforms it. Given I tend to work mostly from photographs – which I stitch together to create new images – this resonated with me. How do I make sure in working from photographs I create something new and interesting not just a copy of the original source. Dumas shows how. Partly it is in making sure something is added from a technical, draughtswoman perspective – paint, ink whatever. Partly this is about adding concepts, ideas to the piece.
This piece does that. It takes an otherwise simple image, drawn in a relatively simple way (not a complex or busy drawing) and adds a political context over the top. Inspired by the events in Israel and Palestine this forms part a series called Against the wall. In this way not only does the individual image have a story to tell or a message to convey but the series of images – depicting the different social, political, even sexual, interpretations of the wall – add layers of meaning not apparent in the original image or any one piece in the series.
That brings me to the most apparent and remarkable observation – the minimalism of Dumas’ work. She adds just enough information to get her message and image across and no more.
Marlene Dumas, Death of the Author, 2003. Oil on canvas
The white disease (at the top) and The interest and power of Death of the Author aren’t just in the application of the oil paint but it is in the absence of it. This combined with a striking composition produces an image that is visually engaging and emotionally deep.
I have not managed to see a Dumas up close (I need to) but her use of slow drying oil I guess gives her the ability to smooth and blend the image. Wipe paint off as much as on in order to produce a delicate – almost ghostlike image.
I explored this idea by doing a quick sketch myself. For this, I didn’t use a brush. I just used my finger and tissue paper to add, blend and remove paint.