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charles donker
(1940 Utrecht)

Dead Mole. Etching and drypoint. 19.8 x 14.6 cm. Signed. Edition 21 numbered impressions. (1975).

The laconic caption, which reads: "Dead mole found at Lake Maarseveen on Sunday morning. The kingfisher was still singing", is characteristic of Donker’s intuitive way of working. The artist often goes off on long, lonely country rambles without any apparent objective and lets himself be spontaneously inspired by whatever motif he comes across, which he notes down in a sketch book or transfers directly onto a prepared copperplate. The result of this solitary way of working is a maximum of immediacy and artistic freshness. This is all the more astonishing since Donker actually trained as a monumental artist at the Koninklijke Akademie voor Kunst en Vormgeving (Royal Academy for Art and Design) in Den Bosch from 1956 to 1961. It was only after completing his studies that the artist turned to etching, a technique he masters with great sensitivity and skill. In 2002 the Rembrandthuis Museum in Amsterdam showed a general exhibition of his printed œuvre – a fitting tribute to the work of this shy and reclusive artist (Eddy de Jongh & Peter Schatborn, Charles Donker etser, Amsterdam 2002).

Although Donker’s printed work is strongly figurative, his etchings never reveal a slavish dependence on the subject or an excessive anecdotical vein. The inner balance and refinement of his compositions give his art a kind of abstract quality, which goes beyond mere observation of nature. Donker has been inspired in his work by outstanding 17th century predecessors, like Hercules Segers and Johannes Brosterhuysen, and by later virtuosos of etching such as Meryon and Bresdin, while the always original and idiosyncratic mise en page recalls the aesthetic perfection of Asian draughtsmen and woodcutters. Behind the outward appearance of a varied and endlessly abundant nature the theme of transience is ever present. Thus the dead mole is also a metaphor of the eternal cycle of life and death. The little animal lies helpless on its back, its limbs stiffened by rigor mortis. Donker’s etching needle has been used with a maximum of artistic concentration. A dense weave of tiny little dots, whorls and short strokes defines the texture of the soft fur and also distinguishes that of the snout, ears and paws. The blank background, which shows fine tonal gradations, underlines the forlornness of the dead creature, while at the same time reminding us of our own mortality.