Among her many other extraordinary images of people, Marlene Dumas has painted many portraits on paper, as large as those she holds in the photograph above – that is, many times larger than life-size: a huge head filling the format. The portrait of her daughter, on the right, is one of those. These heads confront us directly, and at times almost accusingly.
Dumas uses portraiture as a way to find insights into the human condition – whether she is depicting people intimately known to her, like her daughter, or unknown strangers from photos torn out of magazines and newspapers.
Dumas was born and grew up in Cape Town, where she studied art at university, but she moved to Amsterdam, Holland, as a very young woman. She has lived and worked there ever since.
One of her favourite subjects is her daughter Helena. Dumas has painted Helena since her daughter’s infancy – depicting her even in the act of being born. These portraits are intimate and passionate, but are also among her most discomfiting. As in Terry Kurgan’s work, this child is not shown sentimentally or “sweetly”. Instead, she is depicted glowering at the viewer with an intense scrutiny, through narrowed eyes.
Talk About This
This portrait brings the viewer very close to the face of the child – her face fills the canvas, she’s much more than life-size. She seems to look directly into our eyes.
Imagine looking at the painting of a child’s face at that scale. What effect do you think this size has on the viewer?
In comparison, Terry Kurgan’s girl-figure in the etching (I promise) I love you is small – her face no bigger than the palm of your hand. How does scale change the way we respond to the work?