Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Per Kirkeby
1938 - 2018
titled on the overlap
oil on canvas
200 by 130 cm. 78 3/4 by 51 in.
Executed in 1982.
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Galerie Ulysses, Vienna
Private Collection, Italy (acquired from the above in 1986)
Thence by descent to the present owner

Catalogue Note

Per Kirkeby’s, Eisenguss, is exemplary of his signature painterly style. Notable for its mystical organic colour palette, this abstract work alludes to a nostalgic representation of natural forms, imbued with a visceral suggestion of landscape. Dashing vibrant whites hint at a skyline or an oceanic mass, whilst an abundance of blues and greens ground the swirling swathes of paint with their earthly presence. The surface of the canvas is dense, yet it is penetrated by an outward shining yellow light that gleams through the layers of muted tones of paint that veil it. Eisenguss is part of a larger series of works created by the artist in the 1980s. Executed in 1982, Eisenguss was produced in the same year Kirkeby was asked to exhibit at Documenta in Kassel for the first time. Having previously shown work at the Venice Biennale in 1976, this wasn’t Kirkeby’s only taste of international acclaim. He continued to work internationally and was asked to exhibit at Document again in 1992. 

Born in Copenhagen, Kirkeby’s early unsuccessful attempts at drawing saw him turn away from the arts to study Geology at the University of Copenhagen. However, it was here that his drawing skills became truly refined, through geographical drawing, on frequent research trips to Denmark. His career spanned five decades and his polymathic approach saw him experiment with a wide variety of medium including poetry, sculpture, film, travel writing and costume design. Throughout this dynamic history, it was his interest in geology and natural environments from which he drew most inspiration.

In 1996, his work was shown alongside Edvard Munch, Georg Baselitz and Gerhard Richter, who were all praised for their dedication to the medium of paint. In a time when the seductive immediacy of Pop and Performance Art regarded painting as an almost antique mode of artist production, Kirkeby’s work found a new energy and substantiated painting as the most relevant medium to capture the mysticism of his native Nordic terrain. Kirkeby thought of painting as a shelter against time. He has said, “When I paint a picture, the actual process of painting reminds me, in many respects, of the processes which took place, over a very long period of time, when the world and its landscapes were first being created” (Per Kirkeby cited in: David Galloway, ‘Painted Landscapes that Absorb Geology’, International Herald Tribune, 6 March 1999, online). In metaphorically equating the textural layering of paint to terrestrial transformations, Kirkeby invites us to view his work with an imbued existential angst.

Eisenguss, with its encrusted hues of colour and fossilised application of paint, ensures that Kirkeby’s oscillation between abstraction and landscape bears testimony to the innate human awareness of transition and recollection.

Contemporary Art Day Auction