Empty Handed

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  • Condition Report

    Request Condition Report
  • Provenance

    Frith Street Gallery, London
    Private Collection, New York
    Thence by descent to the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum (now Van Abbemuseum), Marlene Dumas: Miss Interpreted, April - May 1992, p. 109 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Maxine Kopsa, 'The Iconography of "Bad Painting": Marlene Dumas' Snowwhite and the Broken Arm', Simulacrum, June 1995, p. 25-27 (illustrated, p. 27)

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘During those years, I made quite a few pictures of children, often young girls as my daughter was a child then, and it is a pleasure to notice how children discover or use their bodies. Adults often read all kinds of meanings into their gestures, but maybe they are just surprised by the wonder of it all. Looking at her own hands. Hands are miracles!’ Marlene Dumas

    Having formulated a unique painterly idiom that provides an entirely unique and nuanced perspective on all that constitutes the human condition, Marlene Dumas is undeniably one of the most significant figurative painters of her generation. Throughout her prodigious career that has spanned five decades, the artist has offered a piercingly original vision that boldly engages with topics of birth, death, sexuality and gender; the fundamentals of human existence. Gently articulated through luscious swathes of deftly manipulated oil washes, the present work Empty Handed provides an ethereal vision of childhood that is both tender and disquieting. Above all, she privileges a sense of ambiguity, synthesising the equivocation of her brush with the emotional weight of the subject. As such, Dumas makes an impassioned case for the unique powers of the painted medium, in a world increasingly overwhelmed with the expedited consumption of digital imagery.

    Born in 1953 in South Africa, Dumas’ early career began in the Netherlands, having first moved to Amsterdam in 1976. Fast becoming Holland’s most internationally acclaimed artist, Dumas finally received the highest accolade of representing the nation at the Venice Biennale in 1995. In 2008, much deserved market recognition for Dumas’ work made her the most expensive living female artist at that time and subsequently in 2014 she reached a new pinnacle of institutional recognition with the opening of a monumental retrospective exhibition, The Image as Burden, that travelled from the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, to Tate Modern, London and the Fondation Beyeler in Basel.

    A significant personal milestone in Dumas’ life had come much earlier, however, when she first became a mother in 1989. Having produced an extensive group of paintings about babies and pregnancy after this life changing event, child subjects have since remained an important, and sometimes controversial subject for the artist. In the present work, the soft pinks of flesh and rotundly stylised forms offer an intimate and nurturing view of the infant subject. Fascinated by how children discovered and used their bodies, the artist places an emphasis on the hands of the young girl in Empty Handed. This is consciously juxtaposed with the enigmatic washes of a moody blue ground, the shy posing of the figure who averts our gaze, and the unavoidable sense of isolation in the composition. As a dislocated frame from a wider unknown narrative, Dumas eliminates context to create a liminal space of paused time, creating a sense of the uncanny through a viewpoint that is both distant and highly personal. The artist has remarked how ‘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.' (The artist in conversation with Barbara Bloom in Dominic van den Boogerd, Barbara Bloom and Mariuccia Casadio, eds., Marlene Dumas, New York, 1999, p. 12.) The close-up portrait format, where a single figure overwhelms the frame, is a key defining pictorial strategy that Dumas developed early in her career and one that has been utilised here to create a vision of childhood that is both sentimental and lonely.

    Crucially, Dumas places herself in dialogue with the medium of photography. Eschewing the traditional academic practice of life drawing and painting from the observation of live models, Dumas invariably paints from images that she has sourced from mass-media. As a result, her oeuvre deals with the extremities of human experience, depicting multifarious individuals and situations from celebrities, to victims of violence. But whether she paints explicit pornographic images or, in this case, a seemingly innocent child, Dumas often disregards the reality behind the source image and instead reinterprets the subject as a formal and imaginative exercise. The profound emotional ambiguity that Dumas imbues upon her subject leads us to reconsider the validity of images as harbingers of discrete narratives, and we become engrossed in the newfound capacities of paint. As the artist has surmised of her practice: ‘I deal with second-hand images and first hand experiences.’ (Marlene Dumas quoted in Mariska van den Berg, Sweet Nothings, Amsterdam, 1998, p. 24.)

    Dumas is inspired by the most existential and alluring figurative painters of the twentieth century, namely Edvard Munch and Francis Bacon. In the present work we see that she has constructed the human figure as its own visual lexicon. A suspended awkwardness of the posture and a flattened perspective of limbs, which appear to be turned out towards the frame, infuse the body with a sense of surreality that allows us to consider the human condition as a whole. Here Dumas unearths ides of innocence and loss as opposing paradigms of childhood, creating figure that is both sweet and enigmatic. As the artist has noted, ‘All things are in themselves contradictory. And its [sic] this principle more than any other which expresses the truth, the very essence of things’ (the artist cited in Matthias Winzen, ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman’, in exh. cat., Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden Baden, Marlene Dumas: Female, 2005, p. 36.) What is most captivating about the work of Marlene Dumas is that such dense emotional ambiguity is not only supported by, but is fully found through the delicate ambiguity of her brush. What she reveals in the softly blended washes of lusciously muted tones is the ability of the medium of painting to take us beyond the clear cut function of images as closed signifiers that claim to narrate an external reality. Instead, her painted forms create endlessly evocative worlds of their own, where the lines of identity are not dogmatically fixed, but are beautifully unstable.

    Phillips would like to thank Marlene Dumas for her assistance with this essay.

  • Catalogue Essay

    「我用相片為基礎來作畫—那種在化學作用複製後被扭曲的殘留餘輝,從我笨拙地嘗試捕捉的自然知感以及意圖去保存這個可疑的習慣中流淌出來。」
    瑪琳・杜瑪斯

    瑪琳・杜瑪斯創造出獨樹一格的繪畫語彙,以全然獨特又觀察入微的角度,直探人類心理狀態,無疑是同世代具象畫家中最重要的一位。在她燦爛多產、長達50年的藝術生涯中,她尖銳又具原創性地去大膽碰觸了生命、死亡、性慾與性別等議題,以及人類存在的基本層面探討。在本作《空手》中,杜馬斯輕柔地以濃厚的寬筆操控著油彩的暈染,此處筆下的童年既是溫柔滿溢卻又充滿不安。重要的是,她演繹出一種模稜兩可,將其筆觸的不確定性與主題情感的沈重緊緊扣合。在這個被數位圖像快速吞噬的世界,杜馬斯因此也為繪畫媒材獨具的魅力,作出了強而有力的捍衛。

    1953年生於南非,杜馬斯在1976年移居荷蘭,其早期生涯亦於此萌發。她迅速成為荷蘭在國際藝壇最知名的藝術家,於是在1995年受邀成為代表荷蘭參加威尼斯雙年展的至高禮遇。於2008年,其作品受到藝術市場的追捧,成為當時在世女性藝術家中作品價位最高的一位。隨後在2014年,阿姆斯特丹市立美術館、倫敦泰德現代美術館及巴塞爾的貝勒耶基金會為她巡迴舉辦了大型回顧展「圖像成為一種負擔」,再創生涯受學術機構肯定的嶄新高峰。

    事實上杜馬斯個人重要的里程碑在生涯早期即已鋒芒畢現,也就是1989年她首度成為人母之時。歷經人生重大改變,她創作了相當大量一系列有關嬰兒及懷孕的油畫,孩童自此也成為她畫中重要主題,有時甚或引起非議。這件作品中,主角有著柔和粉紅之膚色,圓潤的身形,藝術家以親密及關愛的視角來呈現這個嬰孩主題。著迷於孩子們如何發現與使用他們的身體,藝術家於此作中將重點放在畫中小女孩的手部動作。 背景處理卻有意識地選用了情緒性的藍色,帶著謎般難解的筆觸,孩子害羞的姿態,則迴避了觀者的注視,在構圖上自然形成了一種疏離感。就像是被錯置在一個更廣大卻未知的敘事框架之下,杜馬斯消除了文本以創造出一個時間停滯的極限空間,瀰漫著既親密卻又具強烈距離感的怪誕氛圍。藝術家曾如此自評:「感覺好像有事剛發生,一種後知後覺的混沌,或是有事情即將要發生了,但你卻還不知道究竟是什麼。觀者常誤認為與我很親近,像是我透過這幅畫直接與他們對話。我給了他們一個誤謬的親密感。」(藝術家與芭芭拉・布倫姆於藝評家多明尼克・凡・登・布格德,芭芭拉・布倫姆及瑪芮歐希雅・卡薩迪歐所編撰,《馬琳・杜馬斯》,紐約,1999年,第12頁)。在近距特寫的肖像畫格式中,單一的主角佔據了整個畫面,這是杜馬斯早期繪畫確立起的關鍵性代表手法,她在此也用以創造出童年亦可同時是多愁善感又孤單的一個觀看視角。

    至關重要的是,杜馬斯將自身放置於與攝影這個媒材對話的位置。她規避了傳統學院派以觀察現場模特兒來描繪人體寫生的方式,卻習慣性地從大眾媒體擷取圖像來創作。因此,其整體繪畫涉及了人類經驗極端化的範疇,畫中出現的主角和情境十分多元,從名人到暴力事件受害者等均有涉及。但無論她描繪曝露的情色圖片,亦或,像此作中看似天真的孩子,她通常對於圖片背後,其現實的故事一概置之不理,只專注在如何以造形及想像來詮釋這位主角。杜馬斯在繪畫中所注入深層的情感模糊性,讓觀者重新去思考圖像本身的有效性,正如同斷續敘事的前兆一般,而我們也變成了繪畫所開發出新的敘事乘載的一部份。藝術家曾簡述其藝術實踐:「我處理的是二手圖像及第一手經驗。」(馬琳・杜馬斯,摘錄自瑪莉思卡・凡・登・伯格所著,《甜蜜的虛無》,阿姆斯特丹,1998年,第24頁)。

    二十世紀最具存在感及魅力的具象畫家艾德華・孟克及法蘭西斯・培根,皆啟發杜馬斯的創作靈感。在本作中,她將人體形態建構成一種獨立的視覺語彙。懸掛著的尷尬姿態,再加上肢體像是被扭轉朝著外框般平面化的透視處理,讓作品中的軀體充滿了超現實意味,而讓我們去延伸思索人類整體狀態。杜馬斯在此揭示了童年中純真與失落兩個對比模式共存的境地,畫中嬰孩因而也顯得既甜蜜卻又讓人費解。正如藝術家所言,「這個原則比一切都來得更能傳達真理,它是所有事物的本質。」(摘錄自藝術家於馬希爾斯・溫正所著,「藝術家肖像是位年輕女子」一文,展覽目錄,巴登巴登國家美術館,《馬琳・杜馬斯:女性》,2005年第36頁)。馬琳・杜馬斯作品最引人入勝之處,在於那濃厚的情感模糊性,是從其筆觸間微妙的撲朔迷離所堆砌出來的。她畫中柔美暗淡的色調彼此輕悄地暈染、揉合著,似乎揭露了油畫這個媒材也能夠帶領觀者去超越圖像本身顯而易見的功能,一個宣稱能敘述外在現實的封閉表徵。相反的,她筆下的形體創造出的,是一個專屬於自己的無盡低迴世界,在那裡身分認同的界線絕非是嚴格的既定,而是完好的反覆無常。

    富藝斯特別鳴謝瑪琳·杜馬斯協助指導此專文。

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8

Property of an Important American Collector

Empty Handed

1991
signed with the artist's initials and dated 'MD 91' on the reverse
oil on canvas
60 x 50 cm. (23 5/8 x 19 5/8 in.)
Executed in 1991.

Estimate
HK$2,400,000 - 3,200,000 
€269,000-359,000
$308,000-410,000

Place Advance Bid

Contact Specialist
Jonathan Crockett
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018