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.
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