Write Less, Write Sincerely
Many artists think their statement has to be a manifesto of some kind, or a grand declaration about their work, but that is not the case. One of the best-selling artists in the world is Marlene Dumas, a contemporary painter whose work is mostly figurative. Much has been written about her work and what it means. Her well-known artist’s statement is very simple: “I paint because I am a dirty woman.” It is a wonderful statement because she is showing a sense of humor and also being slightly erotic. If you saw her images and liked them, you might read her statement and smile a bit, but it would probably not turn you off. If I were evaluating her work and read that statement, I would think she has a sense of humor and might be fun to talk with. The work itself shows how serious she is, and the statement shows her wit and hints at her personality without feeling arrogant or pretentious. However, her statement is actually much longer, closer to a poem and that was just one line in one of the most powerful statements I have ever read. The statement in its entirety is below.
Woman and painting
By Marlene Dumas, painter
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 labor can be done by others. Painting is the only manual labor 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 every- thing, Cézanne is more than vegetation and Picasso is more than an anus and Matisse is not a pimp.
—Marlene Dumas 1993
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