Marlene Dumas is a South African artist born 3 August 1953 in Cape Town. Most of her works are paintings of figures or heads. What’s intriguing about Dumas’s style is the eerie translucence and pale colour palette that suggest a ghostly aspect in her works. When I went to her exhibit at the Tate Modern, The Image as a Burden, a couple of paintings struck me as incredibly powerful in the ways that they mutilated innocence and morphed it into a horrific form of beauty.
The Painter (1994) was the piece that perturbed me the most. The translucent lack of flesh tone in the child’s face emphasises the demonic sense of murder in the facial expression. The tones of blue across the torso and around the face perfectly contrast the bright stains of red soaking the child’s hands to accentuate the horrific irony of a murderous child. Dumas has successfully created a piece of art that evokes a strong emotional reaction from the viewer, but it is debatable if the work is aesthetically pleasing. Is the Painter too morbid to be art, or does it’s minimalistic affect make it even more of a successful piece?
Het kwaad is Banaal (1984) is a piece that does not evoke the same initial horror of The Painter, but utilises a layered affect to suggest a skeletal or x-ray aspect to the figure. At first glance, this piece appears messy and the smudges of green, grey and black look like accidental smears of dirt rather than creative additions. As the viewer’s eyes adjust to the sharp contrast of fiery hair and pale skin, the dark smudges become more apparent as a layer underneath the skin. It seems as though the skin on the cheek and hand of the woman had been peeled back to reveal an unstable darkness inside her. Once this is realised, the pink around the woman’s eye, cheek and hand as well as the bright yellow in her lips and hair become accentuated to create a psychotic twist in the viewer’s interpretation of Het queen is Banaal.
So the question is, does the eerie edge to Dumas’s work emphasise her talent as an artist because it proves her ability to stimulate emotions in her viewers, or is her simplistic style and disportionality in figures unappealing to view?