The painter Marlene Dumas has transformed the way we see the world, writes Deborah Nicholls-Lee, as two new exhibitions of her work open.
A child smeared in paint lingers sheepishly in the foreground of a stark white canvas. The aftermath of an unsupervised art session is a recognisable image of family life, but in The Painter (1994) by Marlene Dumas, the girl’s sinister stare and blood-coloured hands disrupt the trope, taking us somewhere darker.
Perhaps the painter in the title is in fact Dumas, engaged in what she calls “the power struggle between the artist and subjects”, and her daughter – the painting’s focus – merely an accessory to broader questions of innocence and identity. “Art is not a mirror,” Dumas has said, writing that “a good work of art is essentially elusive”. In a ground-breaking departure from the conventions of portrait painting, feelings, rather than fixed representations, dominate.