Ethereal and yet lifelike, otherworldly and yet poignantly figurative, Kissing
is an immaculate filmic narrative of passion and eroticism by the South African born artist and painter Marlene Dumas. Rendered in a dreamlike ink wash on paper, the softness of the figuration – the delicacy of the forms’ outlines – represents pictorially an experience suffused with rising pleasure and anticipation of euphoria. With consummate sensualism, Dumas arranges with Kissing
an erotic exchange between artist, viewer, and picture. The division of the work into four diaphanous stills leaves an enticing liminal space in which the viewer can imagine the rapturous intensification of each. This work on behalf of the viewer amplifies the artist’s own bodily presence, as Dumas’ gestural, expressive brushstrokes caress the contours of the figures; imbuing the paper with a heightened sexuality. As Dumas herself puts it, “I am not disengaged from the subject of my gaze. With photographic activities it is possible that those who take the picture leave no trace of their presence, and are absent from the images. Paintings exist as the traces of their makers and by the grace of these traces. You can’t take
a painting – you make
a painting” (Marlene Dumas cited in: Dominic van den Boogerd, Barbara Bloom, Mariuccia Casadio, Marlene Dumas
, London 1999, p. 122).
Dumas’ painting in watercolour and ink wash began in the early 1990s. While Dumas delights in artistically conjuring sexual apotheosis – the water-saturated, fluid figures of the Models series providing tantalising glimpse of unknown ecstasies – Dumas’ other works in the medium, such as the Rejects series, evoke an emotional vulnerability conferring a pathos to her erotic work. Pervading her work like a musical motif, this tonal duality grants Kissing an implacable sadness that somehow sharpens and refines the pleasures depicted.