Research on Marlene Dumas

“Art is not a mirror.  Art is a translation of that which you do not know”.  Dumas, M. (2014) The Image as Burden, p.6, Tate Publishing).



Marlene dumas image as burden

Marlene  Dumas available from: accessed  30th June 2016)

self portrait of Dumas ‘ Self-portrait at noon’ , 2008. Available at: (accessed 30th June, 2016).


The head fills the space and contrasts with the dark garment.  The loose handling of paint with focus on the eyes is disturbing. To me there is a  questioning and  sadness in the expression. The greenish/white colour suggests sickness and hints of death.

Helena’s dream (2008) available at: (accessed 30th June 2016)


There is  something disturbing about the children- one is forced to look again because this is no stock image, although, ambivalently, one is aware that the image resembles a magazine or advertising picture. Andy Warhol comes to mind as a possible source.

Biography  (this brief summary of mine is based on reading Dumas, M. (2014) The Image as Burden, p.6, Tate Publishing).

Marlene Dumas was born in South Africa in  1953.  Moved to Amsterdam in 1976 and still lives there.Marlene was in South Africa at the height of apartheid . Some significant dates:1964 , Nelson Mandela sentenced to life imprisonment, 1976 Apartheid laws intensified , 1970’s Steve Biko killed in police custody. The violent society into which Dumas was born is addressed in her work but not in any obvious way. Vulnerability and violence together with the personal and political are recurrent themes in her work.

The children she paints communicate through body language but this is not straightforward . For example in ‘The Painter’ the painted hands suggest violence and the blue on the tummy is strange- it’s the opposite of a jolly family picture of a child with paint on her hands and front.  The skeletal like head is macabre as are the unfinished feet .



the painter marlene dumas
Available at: The painter -Marlene Dumas, accessed 30th June, 2016).

copy of the painter by Dumas

My transcription in oil pastels of ‘The Painter’ by Marlene Dumas.



In an interview in 2003 Dumas talked about her interest in t.v., in film and photographs and particularly the way images zoom in and out – something she has used a lot shown by the unusual angles she often employs.  Dumas revealed that she is interested in the representation of space. Also that she  has drawn on African statues and sculptures when drawing figures and often sees faces like masks.

The Turkish Schoolgirls –  (1987) oil on canvas. Available at:, (accessed 30th June, 2016)


turkish schoolgirls

The Turkish schoolgirls 1987 is a powerful painting- the children’s faces create discomfort because they don’t have any individuality..

‘The teacher ‘1987 available at: (accessed 30th June, 2016)

.the teacher This is one of a series of children in uniform and their teacher. Dumas shows us how uniforms create the look of conformity (my words and interpretation) . To me the work has a personal resonance because I have similar photos of me as a young teacher with my class, photographs put away and which may be lost.  Dumas has inspired me to develop these along similar lines.

Also the work above by Dumas reminded me of the photos of Joan Eardley drawing the children of Glasgow.However Dumas’s work seems much more overtly political.

Joan Eardley, available at: (accessed June 30th, 2016).joan eadley drawing a child

Looking at the children that Marlene Dumas painted  in relation to my final assignment I can see that I have drawn much more on  Joan Eardley’s work. There is a personal connection for me as my first teaching job in the 1970’s was in a deprived area in Hackney, London.  It was a school which received funding as a result of the Plowden Report and I was fortunate in being guided by a Froebel trained teacher who taught me that every child, however deprived, had great potential and should be celebrated for themselves.

Comparing Dumas and Eardley there is a political dimension to both artists’ work.  Eardley  because she draws attention to the poverty some Glasgow children experienced.  Dumas’ because violence is frequently ‘simmering in the background’ as it were , such as in the painting of the child: ‘The Painter’. However Eardley’s drawings and paintings of the children suggest that they are drawn from reality and that there is a genuine concern that they should be valued for who they were.

My charcoal drawing of two children that starts this WordPress blog is based on children I taught in Hackney in the 1970’s and was influenced by Eardley’s work.


Dumas, Marlene (2014) The Image as Burden, Tate Publishing, London.

Pearson, Fiona, (2007) Joan Eardley, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Feedback on assignment 5 and aims that will complete the course.


To do – research Marlene Dumas – particularly her drawings of children in relation to my last assignment.

Darken left hand background of Assignment 1 and blend in figure for penultimate study.

Create a tonal background for the large amount of space surrounding Lois.

Re-do the charcoal figure drawing with better proportions.

Mount work on A1 thin black card with spray mount – label on the back.

Submit  sketchbooks but mark relevant pages.

Submit whole of last sketchbook for Assignment 5 as it contains most of my preliminary work..

Written work and log fine.


Gallery Visit

Russia and the Arts- The age of Tolstoy and Tchailovsky- National Portrait Gallery.

This was a small and very engaging exhibition of portraits.  As Julia Donaldson said in her introductory essay to the B.P. Portrait Award 2014,(National Portrait Gallery) ” A face is of course much more than a set of features;  it is, or can be, a fascinating character map”.  This could be said of many of the portraits in this exhibition.  For example the portrait of Tolstoy captures his ‘anxst’ and his emotional intelligence.

The portraits each seemed to insist that the viewer spent time looking – and being such a small exhibition this was very possible – even so I just concentrated on a few.  As the label by the Rubenstein portrait pointed out the painting captures his drive and dedication to his art.

copy on spot of Rubenstein (NPG)