With her brooding dark eyes, green hair, and paint–smeared body, this child confronts us from the menacing height of six feet and appears as a force of destruction. Yet the title reveals her to be a creative force—a painter. She is the artist’s daughter, Helena, aged five or six, and her babylike body, able hands dipped in black and red paint, and startling visage are completely alien to traditional notions of the artist and the muse. “Historically … it was always the male artist who was the painter and his model the female,” Dumas has said of this work. “Here we have a female child (the source my daughter) taking the main role. She painted herself. The model becomes the artist.”
South African by birth, Dumas studied art and psychology in the Netherlands, where she has spent the last three decades creating work that flouts the conventions of portraiture and artistic patriarchy and exposes the misunderstandings that arise between representation and interpretation. The Painter exemplifies her exceptional talent for psychological portraits of women and children, although rarely are they so autobiographical. The artist works from photographs from magazines or books, or those she shoots herself, usually removing identifying details as she composes her engrossing, nuanced portraits.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 142.