Juul Kraijer (b. Assen, 1970) makes elegant, calligraphic drawings reminiscent of Indian miniatures. All of them show more or less the same female model, her body depicted approximately life-size. Many of the drawings in this exhibition – generally on very pale yellow (but occasionally blue, green or rusty red) paper – will be on show to the public for first time. They include a human figure composed of countless fish and a female head entirely covered with glittering droplets. In another, a seahorse emerges from a woman’s mouth, and yet another shows a face outlined by caressing hands.
At the age of 16, Kraijer visited the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and was instantly attracted by the beauty of the Indian miniatures she discovered there. Two years later, she was given a book entitled Indian Love Paintings. She was immediately transfixed by one particular sketch in the book, made by an anonymous 19th-century artist from Guler, a principality in the foothills of the Himalayas. In retrospect, that drawing can be seen as one of the starting points for her later oeuvre. After training at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam between 1989 and 1994, she was offered a travel grant to visit India. That trip and her later travels have had a major influence on her work.
The women in Kraijer’s drawings are universal figures, impossible to situate in any specific period or as members of any particular race. They are not individuals but personifications, embodiments of states of mind, who seem invariably to exist in a vacuum. For example, one of her drawings shows the face of a woman sticking her tongue out; but tongues emerge not just out of her mouth, but out of a host of other openings in her face. The countless tongues underline the defiance of the gesture. The soft lines used by Kraijer to depict this pure and memorable image render the emotion it conveys almost tangible.
A striking feature of Kraijer’s drawings is the physical imperfection of the women she depicts. There is always some flaw, perhaps a nose or chin just too big for ideal beauty. Although the women in all her drawings are more or less identical, their features do vary slightly from one work to another. Some have Asian features, while others are more Negroid. Almost all the drawings convey a certain vulnerability. Sometimes the figures – which are occasionally drawn in great detail – lie passively on the ground or hang in the arms of another person. Their fragility is emphasised by the delicacy of the technique: charcoal or chalk on paper, occasionally with a little added ink. The compositions emerge only gradually and show traces of poses sketched earlier – evidence that each of Kraijer’s drawings is preceded by a process of great precision and concentration. This exhibition will include a number of earlier works to provide a context for Kraijer’s recent drawings.
Simultaneously with the exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum, work by Juul Kraijer will also be on show as part of the ARS 06 exhibition at Kiasma in Helsinki and the 'Into Drawing' event at the Institut Néerlandais (centre for Dutch culture) in Paris.