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Marlene Dumas. Chlorosis (Love sick). 1994

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Marlene Dumas (South African, born 1953)

Chlorosis (Love sick)

Ink, gouache, and synthetic polymer paint on paper
each sheet 26 x 19 1/2" (66.2 x 49.5 cm)
Credit Line:
The Herbert and Nannette Rothschild Memorial Fund in memory of Judith Rothschild
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Marlene Dumas
Audio Program excerpt

Take Two. Worlds and Views: Contemporary Art from the Collection

, September 14, 2005–March 21, 2006

Artist, Marlene Dumas: I am Marlene Dumas, and I am now talking to you from Amsterdam on the telephone, and the work that you're actually looking at now is called Chlorosis. I didn't know that word either before I read it in an article, and then I used it for my drawings. And they said in the article that in nineteenth-century literature, the heroines often died of tuberculosis, but that now they think it was more a lovesickness, a disease caused by intense grief, and usually an unanswered love.

And apparently "Chlorosis" is derived from the Greek word for "light green", and so if you are so unhappy you could turn light green and then die of it. But they said that after 1880 or 1890 it seemed that no one died of a lack of love any more. When I read that I thought, 'Ooh, but I was in an impossible love story myself,' and as I think, aren't we all, or if we haven't been, we can relate to it.

Even though I use photographs to get to my image, I only look at the photograph to get a certain likeness. I want it to be grounded in reality. In the middle row, totally to the left, I used my daughter, but it was only the expression that I used, so it's not really about her at all. And also in the middle row, the third one from the left was actually Johnny Rotten, who used to be from the Sex Pistols in the British punk time, and always supposed to be this screaming person. And then, in this photograph, I saw this very vulnerable character, looking so lost.

I was looking for images which I could use cause there is no image for sadness, there is no image for love. I mean, it's not an apple, it's not an object. My subject matter is lovesickness, and how can you give that a form?

In Chlorosis I used a lot of water, that's why they’re so light. I work very quickly when I do these type of drawings. I use the watercolor, the Indian ink, and sometimes I mix in acrylic paint, and sometimes metallic acrylic to get some color. I use the water as a type of blob, in which I then make little marks, or I touch it in slight ways.

I actually love the physical aspect of making something and half being in control then letting it go. You sit on the floor, you throw the water, and the skin-like quality comes from whether you pick up the paper while it's still wet, and you move it about. It's much more related to Abstract Expressionism than what you would think.

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 338

In this multipaneled drawing, the twenty-four portraits, arranged in a nonhierarchical grid, resemble casual snapshots or Polaroid-like close-ups. The faces are both beautiful and disturbing; they avert their eyes and express longing, lethargy, and pleading. Their status as apparitions or psychic projections of internal states is emphasized by thin, exquisite washes of color. Certain elements of theatricality are recalled in Dumas's rendering of these phantomlike portraits as bloodless, pale shadows. They invite multiple layers of interpretation: the images are simultaneously distressing, fascinating, haunting, and equivocal. Their expressiveness results from the tension between the depicted, the concealed, and the implied.

Chlorosis has been referred to as an "image of collective desolation." Its title comes from the Greek word for light green and describes greensickness, an anemic disease mostly affecting pubescent females and marked by a characteristic green skin tone. Sometimes referred to as the virgin's disease, chlorosis was considered a sickness of sorrowful love, caused by the intense suffering provoked by unrequited love, and appears in several of Shakespeare's plays, including Romeo and Juliet.

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