The National Portrait Gallery in London has made a bold move: curator Sarah Howgate bought a portrait of Amy Winehouse by Marlene Dumas just a few weeks ago. You ask why this is a bold move? Well, the National Portrait Gallery is displaying the most famous British personalities there are. Of course, Amy Winehouse is famous, but will she be in twenty years time too? Don’t get me wrong, her album Back to Black is phenomenal (and I own the Deluxe version), but the National Portrait Gallery usually only has temporary exhibitions with current personalities – except for, of course, the Beatles, the Royal Family or portraits of already deceased famous British personalities.
I for myself think it was a great bold move. Marlene Dumas – an artist from South Africa born in 1953, working in Amsterdam – paints simple, yet implicated pictures. You look at a child lifting its shirt and you immediately think about all the dark sides of society without knowing whether this was the artist’s intent or not. Her paintings are conceived as very bold with their big streaks and dimensions, but she always manages to evoke the personality of her subjects.
I don’t have any conception of how big an average head is, I’ve never been interested in anatomy. In that respect I relate like children do. What is experienced as most important is seen as the biggest, irrespective of actual or factual size.
I, for one, see in her portrait of Amy Winehouse all the fragile and human streaks we got to know over the years before her death. Her big, kohl-applied eyes and the gap between her front teeth show a very human being who has never been the perfect star we seem to want nowadays.