Collection 1980s–Present

Marlene Dumas. Chlorosis (Love sick). 1994 239

Ink, gouache, and acrylic on twenty-four sheets of paper, Each: 26 x 19 1/2" (66.2 x 49.5 cm). The Herbert and Nannette Rothschild Memorial Fund in memory of Judith Rothschild. © 2024 Marlene Dumas

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 love-sickness, 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.