an artist you should know: Marlene Dumas






Marlene Dumas (you pronounce the S), born in South Africa in 1953, lives and works in the Netherlands, and creates these ethereal human figures. The immediacy and the watery-ness of her faces and bodies is at once clear and simple, even childlike, and darkly complex. She explores many aspects of the human condition in her work, from age to sexuality to race to death. She gained some notoriety for Dead Marilyn, which is taken from an autopsy photo of Marilyn Monroe, and call to mind issues of celebrity, sensationalism and identity. She has also done several images of Kurt Cobain--one called Alizarin Kurt I particularly like, but can't find an image of. She's also known for doing a portrait of Osama bin Laden, stripped of his usual turban-and-glower ensemble and almost looking like a nice person. (On a personal note, I have a theory that Obama ordered bin Laden killed so everyone would talk about something other than Kate and William's wedding.)

Dumas works almost exclusively from photographic sources, adding another layer of separation between herself and her subject, and making her work somewhat dependent on the quality of the photo. I can appreciate this, though my style is nothing like hers. I've often been chastised for working from photos rather than from life, but I find photos, which evoke feelings themselves, to be better for the kind of work that I do. The captured instant is, to me, fresher and more natural than a posing model. (Obviously, I work from candid or at least informal photos.) I especially like "bad" photos--washed out, under- or overexposed, or at weird angles. That way, there's more room for interpretation and generally, I find, a better translation into a painting.

That, and getting someone to sit still for several hours usually costs a lot of money.

Marlene Dumas, everyone.