Per Kirkeby: Paintings and Bronzes from the 1980s
Time Out
Matt Breen
6 June 2017

Much like politicians, artists tend to follow pretty narrow career paths these days. You do a Fine Art degree, then maybe another, then you head out into the big bad world. But Danish artist Per Kirkeby was halfway through a Geology masters when he took the swerve into artmaking in the 1960s, and his lifelong fascination with the natural world runs, like a lode, throughout this collection of paintings and sculptures from a couple of decades later.

The paintings are earthen-coloured palimpsests of stains, splatters, scrubbed washes, gouged lines and trowelled slabs. At first, you’ll probably wonder if Kirkeby even had his eyes open while doing them. Then, after a minute or so, the poetry starts to emerge. In contrast to fellow neo-expressionists like, say, Georg Baselitz (another artist on Michael Werner’s books), these aren’t deliberately ill-composed, fuck-you conundrums. They’re strangely harmonious.

In fact, what seems to power them is a strange sense of inevitability; the sort of slow, ponderous, monumental inevitability that sends tectonic plates drifting across the earth and the roots of plants piercing through rock. Whatever’s happened on the canvas had to happen. The bronze sculptures do much they same: they half feel like primordial rock formations, half like crude monuments hewn by prehistoric ancestors. Kirkeby’s point seems to be that it’s never – as so many artists would have it – a case of man-versus-nature, art-versus-life. For him, the two are always inextricably linked.