Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Pretty (Ugly Before)

The above images are by artist Marlene Dumas (born 1953, South Africa) and are part of her Magdalena series (ink on paper from the collection of the Tate Gallery). Dumas has the distinction of having the highest price paid for a work by a living female artist at auction. Her 1987 painting The Teacher yielded an incredible $3.34 million at Christie’s earlier this year. This is interesting as this is an artist who does not paint the niceties of life. Instead, much of her work challenges Western notions of ideal body types, standards of beauty and sexual politics.

Dumas's work, while restricted by the confines of two dimensions, is able to depict the life force and natural form of woman – that is, the breath and swell of natural forms. Her work seeks to explore gender roles and societal norms. Her figures often show an isolated woman against a white backdrop in her most vulnerable state, which creates a sense of alienation. Through the use of exaggerated forms, such as a swollen abdomen or sagging breasts, she is able to encapsulate the essence of woman's unconstrained form and her subjects are mostly of under-represented groups in society.

I really like the contradiction of style within her works. In one sense everything seems quite painterly and fluid and in other areas the forms are very graphic and articulated. Dumas wrote in 1999, “What a funny thing painting is. The abstract painters always insist on their connection with the visible reality, while the so called figurative artists (or at least I do) insist that what they really care about, is the abstract qualities of life.”

Her works and shows of the last few years tend to focus more on sexual dynamics and are openly sensual while still maintaining a sense of alienation. While not always considered "pretty," these types of images often create a sense of voyeurism for the viewer. It goes beyond the sense of vulnerability to more explicit emotions of pain, tension and sometimes humor.

You can see more of her works at Postmedia:

1 comment:

fairways said...

Thanks for the introduction to Dumas and the link. Good job!