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After the Kiss

After the Kiss
signed, titled and dated ‘M Dumas. after the kiss 1996.’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
76 ¾ x 39 3⁄8in. (200 x 100cm.)
Painted in 1996
Gallery Koyanagi, Tokyo.
Private Collection, Japan.
Anon. sale, United Asian Auctioneers Hong Kong, 27 November 2010, lot 4.
Private Collection.
David Zwirner, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013.
Tokyo, Gallery Koyanagi, Youth and Other Demons, 1996.
Tokyo, Gallery Koyanagi, Youth and Other Demons Part II, 1997.
Tokyo, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Marlene Dumas – Broken White, 2007-2008, p. 139 (illustrated in colour, p. 67). This exhibition later travelled to Marugame, Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art.
Osaka, Suntory Museum, Resonance, 2010, p. 109, no. 10 (illustrated in colour, p. 75).

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Looming larger than life from its two-metre-high canvas, After the Kiss (1996) is a powerful and incandescent portrait by Marlene Dumas. In her signature style—the paint is thinly applied and flushed with vivid, delicate colour—the artist depicts a pale, androgynous figure against a shadowy backdrop. The darkness is washed in tones of midnight blue and teal, and the figure’s skin is ghostly white. Tints of ivory, and a rosy glow at the corner of the mouth—perhaps the trace of the title’s kiss—bring the face to life. Subtle strokes caress the clavicles and chest; the arms are wreathed in smoky grey, as if on the verge of dissolution. Dumas typically works from second-hand photographs, and animates these sources with a distinctive new life through her tactile painterly technique. After the Kiss exemplifies the sensual, ambiguous and richly human presence she is able to achieve. The work was debuted in 1996 in Youth and Other Demons, an exhibition at Gallery Konayagi, Tokyo, which was reprised in the same venue the following year. In 2007, it was shown again in Marlene Dumas: Broken White, the artist’s landmark first Japanese survey show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. It has been held in the same private collection for the past decade.

In Broken White, Dumas showed the present work in a section she called ‘The Boys’ Room’, whose theme was set by a picture of Japanese author Yukio Mishima posing as Saint Sebastian. ‘Saint Sebastian: the patron saint of soldiers and homosexuals, the androgynous dandy, the embodiment of the suffering of the artist’, Dumas wrote. ‘… I have always been fascinated by martyrs and their motives.’ She was equally intrigued by Mishima, a charismatic figure whose writings asserted the unity of beauty, eroticism and death. Dumas’ own work has dealt unsparingly with these themes. ‘I know my relation to it is superficial, because I haven’t studied Japanese art forms, but I feel closer to the way nature is depicted in Japanese art—to artists like Yoshitoshi, and to the violence and sensuality of many Japanese tales’, she said. ‘Fairy tales like this have a quality too, a quality of transformation—the way the moon changes, or a woman turning into a fox. I don’t literally illustrate such stories, but I draw the feeling of changeability, or mutability’ (M. Dumas, quoted in Marlene Dumas: Broken White, exh. cat. Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Tokyo 2007, pp. 64, 153).

Born in 1953 in Kuils River, near Cape Town, South Africa, Dumas grew up with an intense awareness of the printed image. Television didn’t arrive in Kuils River until 1976, the year the artist moved to Amsterdam, where she still lives and works today. The horrors of the apartheid regime left a lasting impress on her work: painting, for Dumas, is a way of bearing witness to the world. Her art also frequently exhibits a bracing honesty and humour, revealing her delight in the rich possibilities of image-making. She draws upon a wide array of source materials for her pictures of the naked body, ranging from Old Masterly paintings to her own Polaroid photographs, pictures found in newspapers, and the work of renowned photographers such as Anton Corbijn, Nobuyoshi Araki and Bettina Rheims. The latter’s 1990 photobook Modern Lovers, iconic for its disruption of gender norms, was a source for multiple works by Dumas in the mid-1990s. Occupying similar territory, After the Kiss is fluid and seductive in both subject and substance. The figure’s mercurial identity parallels that of the image, which, in Dumas’ hands, has transformed from photography to painting.

Dumas’ limited palette foregrounds the subtleties of wash, tint and brushwork. Her painting, in fact, is guided as much by touch as by sight: she works under artificial light, often at night, physically immersed in her work with the canvas on the floor. Collapsing the objective distance between the artist and her source image, it is this fundamental closeness—painting understood as surface and skin—that makes After the Kiss such a stirring apparition. The work’s title, too, touches on the erotic dynamics inherent to the act of picture-making: it was the kiss of Dumas’ own brush, after all, that brought the painting into being.

Dumas has referred to John Berger’s 1972 treatise Ways of Seeing when discussing her early portrayals of men, foregrounding his distinction between the ‘nude’ and the ‘naked’, and between painting as a ‘voyeur’ or as a ‘lover.’ The gaze of her own works, she suggests, is amorous rather than voyeuristic. ‘The aim is to “reveal”, not to “display.” It is the discourse of the Lover. I am intimately involved with my subject matter … With photographic activities it is possible that they who take the picture leave no traces of their presence, and are absent from the pictures. 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’ (M. Dumas, ‘Miss Understood’, 1992, in Marlene Dumas: Sweet Nothings: Notes and Texts, Amsterdam 1998, p. 62).

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