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Timeless Linear Spaces | Tijdloze lineaire ruimten

Every visual artist must explore his relationship with the elements that form the basis for art in general and for the work of each artist in particular: colour, form, and space. For some, this process of exploration is implicitly woven into their work, others give it a prominent place in their work. Rob den Boer is an artist who, in his drawings, etchings, and lithographs, explicitly reveals the search for the creative underpinnings of his work.

Rob den Boer's work focuses primarily on the concept of space. Space is one of the most basic concepts in art. Without space no works of art could even exist. To put it even more strongly, without the concept of space we would not even be able to perceive anything. For we always perceive objects in space. The objects in our environment occupy a certain space, they are located within a space: a room, a hall, a park. Our brain pours our cognitive perceptions into a mould as it were, a mould that is called 'space'. It may sound strange, but without space, without that mould, we would not be able to perceive our perceptions at all.

The concept of space in this philosophical, abstract sense, is not just the subject of philosophical deliberations. Traditionally, the concept of space in a general sense also falls within the domain of mathematics. For mathematics provides the mathematical concepts and figures to describe any and all spaces: the point, the line, the square, the triangle, and the circle, as well as the three-dimensional shapes that can be derived from them: the cube, the pyramid, and the sphere.

These mathematical concepts and figures have always played an important role in architecture and sculpture. These are, after all, the art forms that are most involved in shaping and filling in space. But as the visual arts became more abstract, mathematical concepts began to occupy an ever more prominent place in painting. For example, the constructivists claimed in their Realistic Manifesto that only 'movement in space', rather than volume or mass, is important in art. Futurism, a related movement, likewise emphasized movement, light, and dynamics, whereas the Cubists tried to express the complete structure of a given object and its 'positioning in space'. As art became less concerned with the detailed and realistic representation of its subject, it began to search more and more for the core elements that form the basis for a work of art: form, colour, and space.

This is the framework within which the work of Rob den Boer must be understood. Den Boer began by studying sculpture but in recent years has produced primarily two-dimensional work. Drawings form the essence of his work. Whether charcoal or pastel drawings, line etchings or lithographs, the line is the central element. That line explores, feels its way around, multiplies, and in the process creates the suggestion of space. However, the suggested space is never filled in, it remains as it is: space, openness.

In his drawings, etchings, and pastels Den Boer carefully explores that space. He draws searchingly, intuitively, and prefers to put down a number of lines beside and over each other, rather than drawing a distinct line or boundary with one single stroke. He draws a half circle, switches to a parabola, backtracks, turns around and cuts a corner - and then repeats this entire sequence once again with slight variations. Mathematical figures - the sculptor's alphabet - are transformed into an organic, spacious whole.

Even when the subject of the drawing is obviously realistic - a landscape, a harbour, a ship - space remains the most prominent characteristic of his work. Form and colour, the two other elements underlying a work of art, find their place within that space. Forms and colours may fill the paper but at the same time they create space.

Because the drawings attempt to capture abstract, timeless concepts such as form, colour, and space, they themselves tend to acquire a timeless and elusive quality. They are timeless spaces on paper, composed of black and/or coloured lines and surfaces. They try to reflect that which is at the core of the drawing, the painting, and the sculpture. Although the lines may have been drawn searchingly, they nevertheless possess a clarity, a sharpness which shows clearly that this search is the driving force behind the work.

Hester Eymers

H.H. Eymers, M.A., is a philosopher who regularly publishes articles about philosophy and literature in the Dutch media. In addition, she writes catalogue texts for visual artists.