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I paint because I am a dirty woman.

(Painting is a messy business.)

I paint because I like to be bought and sold.

Marlene Dumas, “Women and Painting” (1993)

MARLENE DUMAS LIKES TO TALK DIRTY. She quips about foreplay with her paintings, muses on the similarities between artists and hookers, and insists: “There are no virgins here.”¹ In this last instance, she is referring to the fact that her subjects are mostly recycled from photographs, but her lineup of sluts and hookers, Magdalenas and Miss Januarys, equally fleshes out her claim. Time and again, Dumas has included herself among her tarty company, warding off tiresome defenses of her fraught subject matter with a spirited offensive: by claiming the role of the gritty, grimy woman.

Dumas doesn’t just talk dirty; she paints dirty. Her surfaces—ragged with turpentine, smeared and fingered—betray a painter unafraid to soil her hands when a

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