Marlene Dumas

Not from Here (II)

In a time when we are so aware (or seem to be) of what happens in the world through TV, newspapers and other photo-based mediums, painting that refers in one way or another to these issues steps into a whole arena of misunderstanding, especially when the painter uses recognizable images of the human figure. It is however a very exciting place to be. Because painted human figures always remain imagined beings that have their own peculiar features and psychology. They are closer to the world of ghosts and angels, daydreams and nightmares than to real people in the streets. In a sense they are always ‘not from here’, which does not mean that they don’t play with our sexual fantasies and fears, and our political preconceptions. They are fully aware of them. They exploit them and smile at our discomfort and quest for straightforward meanings.

They know how often evil travels in straight lines. Paintings are silent things. They don’t tell us what to do. They do not force themselves upon you as the more theatrical mediums do. That is why painting is often seen as dead, compared to the more noisy art forms. Paintings are like frogs, if you don’t kiss them, there can be no love story. And even then you can never know beforehand, beyond doubt, what type of frog you’re dealing with (ugh). Paintings don’t die. They only go to sleep when no one looks at them.

Blackbirds and young boys
In my exhibition Not from Here [1] there’s black and white as races. And there’s black and white as colors. There’s pink bodies and dark blue faces. There’s black people who are yellow and white people who are dark and skins peeling off and eyes left out. And sometimes it’s also a little bit funny.

[1] Jack Tilton Gallery, New York, June-July 1994

The secret
The painting is the secret.
The painting is not a
pervert with a rain coat.
It turns its back on you,
and minds it’s own business.

Night time
Night time is the right
time (as the song goes).
In the dark all people
look the same. Yet the
darkness is not always
the same. The night has
many colours.

My first exhibition of only (portrait)
paintings, in Holland, was called
The Eyes of the Night Creatures.

or the art of reading faces.
There is no way to spot
the odd one out. The rotten spot,
the bad woman, because we are all
under suspicion: as Jean Genet said:
‘because life contains these erotic
conditions I was bent on evil.’
(We try to read our tea cups and
hands to know what will happen, but
we cannot foretell our own fate.)
I won’t point my finger to you,
’cause I don’t know who’s to blame.

‘Don’t you mess with
cupid, ‘cause Cupid ain’t
stupid’. The young child is so sensual
and gentle at times that it scares me.
My daughter (five years now)
shows me her body without
posing to please.
She shows me the cruelty
and magic of innocence.
Not every image I paint
was inspired by her though.

Reinhardts Daughter
You change the colour
of something and
everything changes
(especially if you’re a painter).

Not from Here (II). Originally published in Guia Mensual de las Artes, no. 13 (1994), p.1-2; and included in Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts, first edition Galerie Paul Andriesse and De Balie Publishers Amsterdam, 1998; and second edition (revised and expanded) Koenig Books London, 2014.