Rein Dool’s drawing is calm and pleasant

Dordrecht artist Rein Dool (1933) has been in the news in recent months due to controversy over a painting he made 45 years ago. It is a group portrait of the executive board of Leiden University, which at the time consisted of six smoking white gentlemen. More than natural size, they are crammed into the picture frame. In early November, a PhD student and a professor stated that the painting could now be removed from the conference room where it hung because such an all-male cigar smoking group is no longer of this era. It’s not either: it’s from 1977. Old paintings sometimes depict outdated situations. If that is a reason to remove them from the wall, another Leiden professor wrote in the university magazine Mare, The night watch turned upside down against the wall. The discussion continues, and the university has set up ‘a diverse committee’ to decide on the future of the artwork.

Because of the commotion, Rein Dool threatens to become the painter of the one canceled group portrait, while he has done much more and better work. A wide selection of these is currently on display in the Dordrechts Museum. Also in the rest of Dool’s oeuvre, it turns out, there is a seventies mood. But its datedness has something cosy, calm and analog about it, and probably won’t be found offensive by anyone. That the work evokes associations with the 1970s may be due to the many references to Dutch literature of the time. Dool made drawings for poems by Hans Faverey and large charcoal portraits of, among others, the poets Bernlef and Eijkelboom and Maartens Biesheuvel and ‘t Hart, all as relatively young men. There is also a lot of recent work in Dordrecht, especially landscapes, but these Dordt parks and French and Spanish views might as well have been drawn fifty years ago. There is nothing decidedly twenty-first century about it. You can call them timeless.

Spacious

Dordrechts Museum does not present Dool as a painter, but only as a draftsman – or rather as four or five different draftsmen. Because as an artist he is a split personality who works in different styles. Not in consecutive periods, but simultaneously. While traveling in southern regions, he makes small open marker and pencil drawings in thin, scratchy lines. The large charcoal drawings of the parks and gardens in Dordrecht are soft and artful – drawn in different shades of gray and black. Both types of landscapes are now very spacious.

Rein Dool, View of a pond in Wantijpark, 2015, Charcoal on oriental paper, 70 x 97 cm Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Dool’s figure drawings (with the exception of the author’s portraits) are flatter, more abstract. They do not suggest a physical space, but a mental one: they make room for associations in the viewer’s mind. There are narrative renderings reminiscent of Co Westerik’s work, one of Dool’s examples, but also much more stylized, doodle-like drawings that stem from a sense of form that must have been instilled in him at Den Grafiske Skole in the late 1940s. In the latter works, he puzzles with forms of more and less diluted ink: elongated, simplified surfaces in profile and fluidly curved solutions for the remaining forms. Everything complements each other in a balanced, calm way.

Material love

What connects the different groups of works is Dool’s obvious love of drawing materials. For grainy gray gradations in charcoal, for smooth ink, for drypoint-like, deep black lines on fiber paper. In a video accompanying the exhibition, the artist talks enthusiastically about a large batch of Thai paper that he managed to get his hands on. ‘Handmade paper is not smooth. It is very natural, like the leaf on a tree.’

Rijksmuseum curator Huigen Leeflang describes in a beautiful catalog text how Rein Dool began to create his own, drawn world at a young age to escape a lonely childhood as an only child of constantly quarreling parents, with war and physical setbacks added. In the almost ninety years that followed, he built a paper playground where you can also find peace and pleasure as a museum visitor. At least if you are open to it.

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