Marlena Dumas

Women and Painting

I paint because I am a woman.
(It’s a logical necessity).
If painting is female and insanity is a female malady, then all women painters are mad and all male painters are women.

I paint because I am an artificial blonde woman.
(Brunettes have no excuse).
If all good painting is about color then bad painting is about having the wrong color. But bad things can be good excuses. As Sharon Stone said, ‘Being blonde is a great excuse. When you’re having a bad day you can say, I can’t help it, I’m just feeling very blonde today.’

I paint because I am a country girl.
(Clever, talented big-city girls don’t paint).
I grew up on a wine farm in Southern Africa. When I was a child I drew bikini girls for male guests on the back of their cigarette packs. Now I am a mother and I live in another place that reminds me a lot of a farm – Amsterdam (It’s a good place for painters). Come to think about it, I’m still busy with those types of images and imagination.

I paint because I am a religious woman.
(I believe in eternity). Painting doesn’t freeze time.
It circulates and recycles time like a wheel that turns. Those who were first might well be last. Painting is a very slow art. It doesn’t travel with the speed of light. That’s why dead painters shine so bright.
It’s okay to be the second sex.
It’s okay to be second best.
Painting is not a progressive activity.

I paint because I am an old-fashioned woman.
(I believe in witchcraft).
I don’t have Freudian hang-ups. A brush does not remind me of a phallic symbol. If anything, the domestic aspect of a painter’s studio (being ‘locked up’ in a room) reminds me a bit of the housewife with her broom. If you’re a witch you will still know how to use it. Otherwise it is obvious that you’ll prefer the vacuum cleaner.

I paint because I am a dirty woman.
(Painting is a messy business).
It cannot ever be a pure conceptual medium. The more ‘conceptual’ or cleaner the art, the more the head can be separated from the body, and the more the labour can be done by others. Painting is the only manual labour I do.

I paint because I like to be bought and sold.
Painting is about the trace of the human touch. It is about the skin of a surface. A painting is not a postcard. The content of a painting cannot be separated from the feel of its surface. Therefore, in spite of everything, Cézanne is more than vegetation and Picasso is more than an anus and Matisse is not a pimp.

 

Women and painting. Originally published in Parkett. Cherchez la Femme Peintre! A Parkett Inquiry, vol. 37 (1993), p.140; 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.