Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above in 1995)
Christie’s, London, 24 June 2004, Lot 48
Doron Sebbag, Tel Aviv
Christie’s, London, 12 February 2010, Lot 119
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Marlene Dumas, ‘Pornographic Tendency (1986)’ in: Mariska van den Berg, Ed., Sweet Nothings, London 2015, p. 33.
Marlene Dumas paints “an ass like an ice cream, [two round] scoops of pistachio or mint and cookie dough [that is like] sweet meat” in The Peeping Tom (Bianca Stigter, ‘Miss Pompadour’, in: Johannes Vermeer Prijs, Marlene Dumas: Acheiropoietos – Cheiropoietos, Amsterdam 2012, p. 14). Silky and soft, the present work is in keeping with the very best of Dumas’ ability to caress oil paint with graceful subtlety across the delicate weave of the canvas. Luscious greens, yellows, and blues carefully combine in thin, hazy swathes, allowing for an incredibly seductive representation of skin to bloom before our eyes. For Dumas explains that “painting is about the trace of the human touch. It is about the skin of a surface” (Marlene Dumas, ‘Women and Painting (1993)’ in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Marlene Dumas – The Image as Burden, 2014, p. 70).
Dumas’ work is characterised by its intimate ties to the human body and the human condition. She is notorious for raising taboo questions about gender, sexuality, and race throughout her paintings. She is also equally well known for painting exclusively from previous pictures, producing representations of representations that seek to interrogate the onslaught of sensorially stimulating and sensationalist images in our cultural society.
The Peeping Tom borrows imagery from Michael Powell’s 1960s film of the same name, which deals with semi-pornographic themes about seeing and being seen. In painting from “second hand images” with “first hand emotions”, Dumas provocatively remarks that her figures are “models [who] have already modelled for someone else” insinuating that there are “no virgins here” and that “art has never been innocent” (Marlene Dumas cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Zwirner and Wirth, Marlene Dumas Selected Works, 2005, p. 9 and Marlene Dumas, ‘Waiting Rooms (1989)’ and ‘Blind Dates and Drawn Curtains (1993)’ in: Mariska van den Berg, Ed., Sweet Nothings, London 2015, p. 49 and p. 80). Her personal writings and painted works are therefore evocative double entendres: referencing her appropriative painting practice, but also her preference towards representing risqué bodies and subject matter.
In the present work, an ambiguous figure simultaneously reveals and conceals its bare skin. Yet despite being naked, its race is uncertain since its ‘pistachio or mint’ green skin falls far outside the spectrum of human flesh. Dumas therefore aligns herself with the types of revolutionary changes that have been made to the nude throughout art history. A comparison to the work of Henri Matisse is particularly of note in terms of the present work. A tremendous example of the French master’s exceptionally fluid use of colour in depicting the human body, Matisse’s Bather (1909) displays a chromatically dynamic schema; outlined in black and set against a vivid blue ground, the figure of Matisse’s nude bears a pose that has remarkable resemblance to Dumas’s The Peeping Tom, while the voluptuously rendered back echoes the powdery softness of Edgar Degas' Woman at her Toilet. With its back turned towards us, the figure in Dumas’ work exposes its buttocks while obscuring its genitals from view, opening up the possibility that it is perhaps male, but also possibly, female.
Dumas’ figures ultimately challenge traditional and refined art historical representations of the male and female nude by incorporating such ambiguous elements. Dumas places emphasis on this, in that “it was not [only] the nude I was looking for, nor the posing figure” she states, “but the erotic conditions of life [and the] two ‘subjects’ confronting each other” (Marlene Dumas cited in: Emma Bedford, ‘Intimate Relations,’ in: Exh. Cat. Cape Town, Iziko South African National Gallery, Marlene Dumas: Intimate Relations, 2007, p. 43). Poised before a darkened window-like opening, the present figure peeks into a potentially erotic scene that we do not have the privilege of seeing ourselves. As such, it becomes unclear as to whether this figure is masturbating, urinating, or simply squatting. Despite multiple interpretations and mis-interpretations, the overall scene is incredibly voyeuristic. The present work is thus self-reflexive in relation to looking, and deeply saturated in the desire and delight of such an act. Matched by the seductive handling of the surface, Marlene Dumas’ illustrious painterly technique in The Peeping Tom makes its stimulating subject matter all the more sensual.
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