'At art school in the 1970s, it was clear that no-one was inspired by the nude drawing classes any more. The women (of colour) who posed at the university had been there for many many years. Being a model had become their occupation. They had posed themselves into (still life-like) generalized objects, devoid of erotic (or any kind of) energy. The rare occasions that the male nude (white) was acquired, it led to giggles or indifference but not to concentration. Now it seems that it was not the nude I was looking for, nor the posing figure, but the erotic conditions of life that I was after.' (Marlene Dumas quoted in D. van den Boogerd, Marlene Dumas, London 1999, p. 122).
The oeuvre of Marlene Dumas revolves around an understanding of the human figure as some sort of visual lexicon of a psychologically revealing narrative and on how the body in all its awkwardness or ease of posture can speak volumes about the nature of the human condition as a whole. It is this unique and highly individualistic aspect of the body that is often caught unaware on camera and Dumas uses these photographs for her fluid and almost intuitive painting. The diluted watercolour, a favourite medium of the artist, seems to be completed in a single continuous flow of the brush, reinforcing the impression of a man caught unaware of the outside world, lost in his own thoughts. The medium bleeds into the paper, highlighting the hunched posture of the man and his inward gaze, bestowing intensity and emotion to the work.
Dumas' work appears to have a clear erotic aspect: the naked torso and the implicit title heighten the sense that there is something taboo happening; yet she has also made the viewer complicit in this act. She has placed the entire nature of viewing, of art, of display and of viewing under scrutiny, implying that it may be the viewer, rather than the subject hunched cautiously in the picture, who is the one thinking deep, dark thoughts. The image itself has thus taken on a new life, a new existence and a new status through the artist's intervention and the viewer's interpretation.
'No, it's suggestive, it suggests all sorts of narratives, but it doesn't really tell you what's going on at all. Someone said that it feels as if something has happened, in the sense of an after-event, or alternatively that something's going to happen but you don't yet know what it is. It's as if I can make people think they are so close to me - that they believe I've addressed the painting directly to them. I give them a false sense of intimacy. I think the world invites you to have a conversation with it' (Marlene Dumas, quoted in B. Bloom, 'Interview', pp. 7-29, D. van den Boogerd, Marlene Dumas, London 1999, p. 12).