Marlene Dumas

Accepting Painting for what it is

When I was at art school I wanted painting to have a stronger connection to reality, to be more like ‘real life’. I wanted to be a photographer because I thought it was closer to real life. People who made paintings or fantasy images where figures floated in the air were removed from reality, I thought. Perfomance artists seemed closer to the real thing. Why make an enormous painting in order to tell you that I love you when I can simply write you a letter? But I really love to make images with my hands, so to resolve this contradiction, I started to make use of all the things that bothered me about painting. I realised that I don’t want to make a human being. I’m not God. I’m making something else. When I started to embrace the ambiguity of the image, and accepted the realisation that the image can only come to life through the viewer looking at it, and that it takes on meaning through the process of looking, I began to accept painting for what it was.

Accepting Painting for what it is. Originally published in A fruitful Incoherence, Iniva, London, 1998, p.50; and included in Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts, second edition (revised and expanded) Koenig Books London, 2014 [Excerpt from a conversation with Gavin Jantjes. Marlene Dumas replies to Jantjes saying the following:‘There is something the viewer has got to do when he or she looks at your work. You have to look and think beyond first references’].