n°2/ The Kiss of Death

January 2012

By Nathalie Azoulai


In 2003, painter Marlene Dumas unashamedly borrowed an image from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho. Unashamedly because, as she puts it, “Second-hand images can generate first-hand emotions.” For her the act of borrowing is not about reproduction but recreation, an idea she underlines by entitling her painting The Kiss. But which kiss if it isn’t the kiss of death? Look at the two images: while Hitchcock deliberately filmed the face of the dead Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) as if it were still alive, like the stuffed crows in the Bates Motel, Dumas adds a touch of death. How? By closing her eye; by removing the drops of water that weren’t tears but the remnants of her deadly shower (in the painting they’ve run off or dried long ago); by giving her flesh the yellow and purplish colours of a flesh into which death has begun to leak; and, finally, by marking this beautiful face with a suffering that weighs down and corrupts.

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