Per Kirkeby


Prologue by David Neuman, director Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall.
Blue, Blue Oblivion by Aris Fioretos, author.
Restlandschaft – Thoughts on Per Kirkeby by Thomas Elsen, director Neue Galerie im Höhmann-Haus, Germany (1999).

Exhibition catalogue no 20. ISBN 91-972986-4-6
36 pages, color, incl. fax illustrations by the artist, insert. Texts in Swedish/English.
Published 1999 by Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall.
Price: 150 SEK (approx. 16 EUR)

Restlandschaft – Thoughts on Per Kirkeby by Thomas Elsen

(…) While, on the one hand, he is in a position to sound out the possibilities of lyrical language, on the other hand Kirkeby shows equal command of the ‘sober’ factual language. Besides his activity as poet he is at the same time author of a multitude of essays, and art historical articles including on Manet, Delacroix, Turner and Schwitters.

Intuition is a central impulse for Kirkeby in order to carry out his art and – at the same time – a type of counter-idea to that of spontaneity. He emphasises the qualitative difference in relation to the spontaneous works, as a creative process that for him is essentially related to the difference between slowness and speed. On the basis of intuition as the starting point and his point of departure as a painter, the picture ‘grows’ through many stages, corrections, superimpositions, through visible and invisible transitions. It is, albeit also to a large extent dominated by the mood, (“The pictures that emerge in this case are often much more depressive,” Kirkeby in conversation with the author in Frankfurt, summer 1997) never only the expression of a unique moment but rather a ‘time continuum’, though it must be said frequently only a short one.

The occasional categorisation as modern landscape painter has always been rejected by Kirkeby. Nevertheless, it is both the intensive observation of nature (e.g. of fragments of tree, states of weather, light conditions that change with the time of day and year) as well as the geological motifs and motivation (study of surface structures and shifts, erosion processes) that in his pictures represent a definitive artistic continuum. However, Nature is not directly portrayed but rather appears as fluid; the change of a subject state. Kirkeby’s painting constantly deals with this metamorphosis. A certain methodological analogy to the observation of geological layers in Nature is found in the reciprocal overlapping of painting and drawing in the picture field that plays a dominant role in his work. The drawing is – in this case – an essential dialogue event with reference to the self-confirmation of the picture and therefore integrally contained in this. The sketched motifs of the vignette in this catalogue may also be used by way of comparison, the vocabulary of which – sometimes concealed – in the pictorial series ‘Rest-Landschaft’ now and then stand out very directly.

The Landscape Remains
When I asked Per Kirkeby to give me a short reflection on ‘Rest-Landschaften’, his new picture series accomplished on the occasion of his exhibition at Höhmann-Haus, he answered shortly thereafter from Copenhagen: “Instead of a couple of more or less intelligent lines I have made a series of small vignettes. Might this be more suitable?”

This statement says a lot about an artist who knows how to handle language with as much skill, precision and poetry as paint. Kirkeby is thoroughly sceptical as regards the linguistic medium’s capability of acting as the key to art. “Every artist knows that a picture is only interesting when it cannot be grasped in linguistic terms. For this reason I also do not understand why art publications become ever thicker in size.” (In conversation with Heinz-Norbert Jocks. Kunstforum 135/1997. Page 267).

What cannot be said with words must be painted and, where explanations are not suitable, Kirkeby’s poetry occupies the space between the lines. Underlying this is the profound insight of the artist that the spell of painting cannot be broken by words. A good picture remains – in the end only comprehended intuitively – always a landscape of paint which the conceptual unambiguity and availability of words never totally deliver: what is left is always a remainder.

(Excerpt from the catalogue text by Thomas Elsen, 1999.)