Ten things you didn't know about Marlene Dumas

Published 5 February 2015

Record-breaking, houseboats and Dolly Parton – as Tate opens a major new retrospective we uncover some interesting facts about world-renowned painter Marlene Dumas.

1. She’s an auction house record breaker

Her painting The Teacher sold for £1.8 million at Christie’s in 2005, more than double the estimate. She went on to surpass her own record once again in 2008, when Sotheby’s sold The Visitor for £3.1 million, the highest price ever paid for a living female artist at the time.

2. Her work begins with photographs

Instead of working from life, Dumas uses photographs of her subjects in order to gain distance and paint with an ‘amoral’ brush.

3. She can’t drive or cycle

Despite living in one of the cycling capitals of Europe (Amsterdam) she prefers to keep her two feet firmly on the ground.

4. She used to live on a boat

Dumas’s former home took the form of a house boat on the Amstel river, which runs through Amsterdam. She has since moved on, but her husband – artist Jan Andriesse – has kept it as his studio.

5. She called Christ ‘erotic’

Dumas once stated that ‘Jesus is the most erotic figure in art’, specifically relating to depictions of the crucifixion. She later clarified: ‘I don’t mean I get excited when I see a dead person, I’m saying that in the history of painting, he has been the main figure, and he’s this naked man who struggles between spirituality and physicality.’

6. Her childhood was censored

Growing up in apartheid South Africa meant she had no access to pop culture or modern art, with television only arriving in 1976. When she left to study in the Netherlands she described this sudden exposure as a turning point in her career.

7. She subverted her ‘immigrant’ status

Trying to adjust to life in Amsterdam had its own problems, as she struggled with her alien status. She defied hostilities by making a t-shirt that read ‘Ik is een allochtoon’ adopting a term for ‘immigrant’ that is sometimes applied pejoratively to Holland’s black and Muslim residents.

8. There’s a link between Amy Winehouse and Phil Spector

Dumas was inspired to paint a portrait of the deceased singer Amy Winehouse (acquired for the National Portrait Gallery with help from the Art Fund) after discovering she had covered the Phil Spector song ‘To Know Him is to Love Him’. Dumas had recently finished a painting of the disgraced music producer, and was touched by the association between the lives of these doomed celebrities.

9. Her idols include Simone de Beauvoir, Mae West and Dolly Parton

Discovering the work of the French philosopher as a student, Dumas began incorporating De Beauvoir’s theories into her work, looking at perceptions of gender and sexuality. The artist also used West and Parton to question society’s treatment of women, and considered herself to share more than a passing resemblance to the stars.

10. She’s a night owl

Only ever starting work late at night, Dumas insists on complete silence and places her canvases flat on the ground. She prefers to crouch over her work as opposed to using a traditional easel.

Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden is at Tate Modern until 10 May. Save 50% with a National Art Pass.

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