Marlene Dumas

Bacon and Dumas

– or the Discomfort of being ‘coupled’–

The problem with me
and liking somebody,
is that it takes me so long
to acknowledge it publicly
that when I eventually do
it’s mostly no more true.

All artists (have to) participate in GROUPSHOWS,
knowingly or not. Being part of any collection,
and/or art history, the art is constantly placed
in relation to other artists, mostly of their own generation
or those with the so-called same style and concerns.

I’ve been grouped
I’ve been solo,
but I’ve never been ‘coupled’
in an exhibition.

I don’t really like ‘couples’ (which doesn’t mean I don’t paint them). It is an inevitable part of culture. I believe relationships exist between everything, yet some are more extreme than others. Some attract one another against all odds, and some are more forced. Bacon would definitely, if he had a choice, have said no to this show (as Marlborough does)[1], because he would not have liked to be seen in relation to me. He wanted to compare himself as an artist only in relation to the very best (Velazquez and Michelangelo). I compare myself to whatever comes in my way. As Jan Andriesse said: ‘The difference between you and him is: Bacon has a discriminating taste, while you don’t discriminate’.

Is this then a forced relationship? Not really. This was not initiated by me, or him, but arranged by others. Yet saying yes to this, made me feel (initially) like I was trying to seduce or make unwanted advances to the Pope, moved by the aphrodisiac of his authority. But then at the same time: Which woman of our time wants to be associated with the Pope at the end of the 20th century?! I had mixed feelings (as usual).

Bacon, just like Picasso, is an artist that deserves a bit of a rest after his death. Both of them, each in his own way, got so typecast by the media and public opinion that one forgets what they’ve really achieved. Picasso simply became Mr. Macho, and Bacon Mr. Horror. (I once made a joke on myself by calling an exhibition of mine Miss Interpreted, note – not Miss Misinterpreted – but most people missed the point, just causing more misrepresentation.)

Anyway, I got caught between my earlier youthful admiration for Bacon and the image he had become. I even felt a bit embarrassed, then for him, then for myself. Yet I don’t know of anyone of the generation after the Second World War who ever wanted to paint a portrait of a human figure (whatever their intentions) could escape Francis Bacon. Dutch artist Emo Verkerk mentioned that he started his first drawings after being inspired by that (now famous and classic) interview of Sylvester with Bacon.

[1] Marlborough Gallery, London, takes care of the estate of Francis Bacon

Bacon and Dumas, or the Discomfort of being ‘coupled. Originally published in Marlene Dumas / Francis Bacon (cat.), Malmö Konsthall | Castello di Rivoli, Malmö | Milan, 1995, p.27-39; and included in Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts | Politics (of Art), first edition Galerie Paul Andriesse and De Balie Publishers Amsterdam, 1998; and second edition (revised and expanded) Koenig Books London, 2014.