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Juul Kraijer

All the drawings shown in Juul Kraijer’s first solo-exhibition depict the same model, a young Asian woman whose guarded expression perfectly suits the qualities of mystery and vulnerability in Kraijer’s work. The slender model, who is often shown naked, is at once erotically feminine and bony-boyish. According to the gallery, Kraijer is fascinated with the androgyny of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando character; the influence of Balthus can also be sensed.
There’s a lot of variety in the drawings - in paper size, in charcoal or pastel medium, in occasional use of colour, in the amount of detail in an image or setting - which suggests that Kraijer, who is only in het mid-20’s, is experimenting. Yet it’s the consistency of tone in this body of work that most impresses the viewer. Kraijer’s technique is so reticent that only its brevity and lightness register; the work is not about it’s own making but about naturalistic images that are memorably strange. The model, often shown with birds or fish, seems ethereal, a dream as much as a reality, whether she is given a plausible setting or, as is more often the case, is surrounded by emptiness. In one work, she lies on her back on a dark, flowered cloth with her knees drawn up and turned to one side. A blackbird emerges from between her legs and eight other blackbirds already born, hop around her on the cloth. In a drawing in which she wears a lace teddy, a robin seems to have thrust its head into her neck. In another, she wears a T-shirt, faces forwards, and placidly squeezes a blackbird in each fist. In another she’s seen from the waist up, elbow raised behind her head in the angular manner of a Picasso demoiselle revealing, in her armpit, the perfect image of a fish, which she looks at with casual interest. The model is sometimes multiplied: in one work she faces herself, head to head, as a pair of classical busts upon a French-looking desk; or she appears as Siamese triplets whose faces merge; or she is twins, seen face to face in a bathtub, knees improbably hidden but knuckles riding above the water like waterbugs.
Kraijer’s combinations of the human figure with other creatures are her eeriest works. In one small drawing, the model looks downward submissively, her eyes closed, as a school of tiny fish swim through the air and over her face, slipping up her neck and into her ears. Maybe, in the end, these works are about Kraijer’s ability to suggest the feelings that the model conceals. The intense and disconcerting mood of the drawing - communicating self-containment, wariness, suppressed response, endurance even accepted violation - is a remarkable achievement for such a young artist.

Janet Koplos,
Art in America, April 1998