With an eye for detail and an elegant style of drawing, Roodbeen records the attitudes and facial expressions of magistrates, criminal lawyers, witnesses and the public, with in the centre the defendants. They may be ‘just respectable defendants’, as Roodbeen puts it, but are often famous and notorious names such as the gypsy king Koko Petalo, the master swindler ‘Mr Olivier’, and the professional criminal Willem Holleeder. Many of those trials have come to form part of our collective memory by now: the Lockerbie attack, the ABP corruption scandal, the Gang of Venlo, the changing room murder, the Heineken kidnapping. More than 150 drawings with often intriguing captions like ‘the sewer murder’ or ‘strangling on request’ can be seen this winter in the Kunsthal.
Half a century of legal history
Roodbeen sees many courts of law from the inside and has followed half a century of legal history. His drawings show the gradual development from grand courtrooms for which time seems to have stood still in the 19th century, with an inkstand and quill on the table in front of the judge, to the businesslike lawcourts and the way witnesses are questioned today, sometimes even with a direct video link. In his detailed portraits Roodbeen manages to strike the right balance between a neutral, realistic rendering of the situation and elements that convey the mood and character of the defendant. After all, the artist is literally the person who determines the public image, and Roodbeen acknowledges his responsibility in this respect. Though Chris Roodbeen, who started out as a graphic designer, is 86 years old by now, he is still active as a courtroom artist.