Marlene Dumas creates drawings of human figures and portraits that have been described as “startling, frank and subtle.” Her work is inspired by imagery from film stars and fashion models such as Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Schiffer and art historical icons including Manet’s “Olympia” and Vermeer’s “Woman with a Pearl”.
Dumas does not use live models, rather, she chooses to paint and draw from photographs-either gathered from magazines, reproductions, or taken by herself-recreating the cropping, blurring, and flattening effects of this medium. Many of her drawings have an informal look; the paper, cut from a large roll is often scratched, stained and torn. Issues from art and religion to family and the artist’s native South Africa are addressed in her work.
Dumas’ early work from 1976 to 1983, reflected her interest in human relationships often filled with “uncertainty, anxiety, sexual tension, and desire.” It included large collages of drawings in pencil, ink, and crayon combined with text, clippings from newspapers and magazines, and the occasional object.
Dumas’ created works about Africa, including three Homesick drawings (1976), Self-portrait as a Black Girl (1989) and An African Mickey Mouse (1991). This group of works culminates with Black Drawings (1991-1992), a small slate with 111 portraits done in inkwash and watercolor. Dumas created this work as an interactive piece that “sparks different feelings, reactions, and questions from the viewer.”
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Marlene Dumas produced a group of work about babies and pregnancy. Becoming a mother in 1989, Dumas explores the relationship between existence and its origins, both in terms of human life and of art. The Foetus Tree (1987-1991) depicts a large tree set in a wasteland that bears fruit in the form of fetuses at different stages of development.
Marlene Dumas, who was brought up in a family and culture steeped in the Dutch Reformed Church, begins to address religious subjects in the early 1980s with Jesus is Boos (1983), an abstract portrait of Christ emerging from a purple cloud. Jesus Serene (1994), completed ten years later, depicts Christ in a series of 21 portraits drawn from artistic representations of Christ as well as from contemporary faces one might encounter on the street. Dumas’ first full-length drawings of women feature the Christian saint Mary Magdalene. Magdalena (de eerste) [the first] (1996) and Magdalena (met de grote borsten) [with big breasts] (1996) were both inspired by supermodels’ bodies and poses from old paintings of women.
Josephine (1997), West (1997), and Morningdew (1997), representing Josephine Baker, Mae West, and Pamela Anderson, form a triptych of female sex symbols from popular culture. While Male Nipples (1998), Pink Erection (1988), and Things Men Do (2001), are inspired by pornography, “Dumas’ blurry contours and hazy shapes reveal the sensuality in her male nudes. . . . Throughout her work, Dumas draws the human face and body in order to explore the essential themes in life: birth, love, sex, religion, and death.”
Biography from the Archives of AskART.