Per Kirkeby

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Brick sculpture by Per Kirkeby in front of German National Library in Frankfurt/Main, Germany

Per Kirkeby (born 1 September 1938, in Copenhagen) is a Danish painter, poet, film maker and sculptor. Kirkeby’s interest in geology and nature in general plays a crucial role in his art.

Quotes of Per Kirkeby[edit]

sorted chronologically, after date of the quotes of Per Kirkeby

1965 - 1995[edit]

  • Landscapes are about beauty and death. The only way you can define beauty.. to know that death is hiding behind it. This is what haunts you when you’re doing a so-called landscape painting. -
    • as quoted in Per Kirkeby: Paintings and Drawings, Helaine Posner, exhibition catalogue (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT List Visual Arts Center, 1992

'Bravura', Per Kirkeby, (1982)[edit]

Quotes from: 'Bravura', Per Kirkeby, Stedelijk Museum Van Abbe, Eindhoven, 1982 (transl. Peter Field)
  • What I am after is 'bravura, an attempt to do something beyond the truth'.. .I do not seek truth before bravura, I seek it on the other side. Naturally it is a basic risk to run, the internal insecurity, where nothing is measurable, no solid standard exists any longer, and one can hardly discern the difference between commercial bravura and true trapdoor, but it is the only way of escaping good taste and narrow certification. The light of ambivalence is a heavenly one.
    • chapter 'Synopsis', p. 83
  • I believe that painting, in our meaning, is structures. Each application of paint to a surface is structure. This is, of course, self-evident, but a superstructure of meaning can occur. One can have various motives for doing it. And here that difficult motif comes in. I believe that a ruthless accumulation of structure reworkings leads to one meeting one's motif. One's life-motif, so to speak. That which one has and does not know that one has it. A sort of geology, as when, in a constant process, sedimentation and erosion makes the earth we live on like it is now, without any meaning in itself in a rational sense, but accepted as that upon which we live in this life..
    • chapter 'Klee and the Vikings', p. 83
  • Painting is laying layer upon layer. Without exception it is fundamental to all painted pictures even if they look as if they were done in one movement. The movement has always crossed its own track somewhere. It is easy to understand that a picture is layer upon layer when it comes to Picabia's puzzle pictures or my own material works, but it is difficult with the 'synchronos'. By the 'synchronous' I mean all those pictures where all the layers aim at the same picture, where the under-painting and following layers – glazed or not – fall on top of each other. The 'unsynchronous' are the ones where each new layer is a new picture. It is like geological strata with cracks and discordances. But each new layer, however furious, is always infected and coloured by the underlying one. Even when it is slates where the previous payer is completely removed physically, wiped off.
    • chapter 'Caption', pp. 83-84
  • Thus it is with all pictures, there are many layers, and with good reason an analysis nearly always deals with the last [layer]. The last layer in a superficial sense. But how then can one talk of what one cannot see, the overpainted or wiped-off layers, how to go about for example, photographs that are like slates with layers which no longer exist. The answer is that they exists nevertheless, taken up into the visible layer by a rubbing-off, but the problem, on the whole, is how one deals with the visible layer. The angle-sure, viewpoint seeking and in the worse sense 'analytic' intercourse with the picture.
  • chapter 'Caption', p. 84

This method does not call up the invisible layers. The invocatory tone of intercourse is the 'synthetic', which does not seek results immediately but treats the picture sensually and then allows the apparently most unreasonable associations to grow. In this way invisible layers in oneself are invoked, and this is the only kind of invisible layer in the picture which allows itself to be invoked. This is 'unscientific' and apparently uncontrollable and subjective. But the subjective is to a large extent the common; the invisible, subterranean layers are fertile soil for the great common pictures.

  • chapter 'Caption', p. 84

1995 and later[edit]

  • it doesn't care too much if it's from the 60's or from last year - it's kind of the same thing [in his paintings].. ..apparently there are certain structures, certain ways of organizing a painting that's there, that I'm born with as a painter.
    • in the film: 'Per Kirkeby, on his work', 2012
  • To achieve the structure it takes a damn long time, so my paintings are always in work for a very long time—sometimes a year. Not that I work on them every day. I will have them, and then come back to them after a year, and also return intermittently. It’s not easily done. I am not able to do “one, two, a painting.” I try to do it very quickly, but it doesn’t work with me. I simply can’t do it. Very often people look and say, 'Ah, fantastic! That’s a beautiful painting.' But the moment they are out the door I start working on it. I rework it.
    • In a talk with Kosinski, before 'Per Kirkeby at the Phillips', in The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C. January, 2013
    • Kirkeby spoke to exhibition co-curator Dorothy Kosinski about the necessity of time in the development of a painting.

interview in Kirkeby’s home studio, Copenhagen (2012)[edit]

Quotes from: Nicolai Hartvig interviewed Kirkeby in his home studio, Copenhagen; the article was published in the December 2012 issue of 'Modern Painters'.
  • At my age [74], you realize that some things have caught you. You can see that as a positive or a negative. On the negative side: Are you in a routine, unconsciously adapting to things that work well?.. ..The black Masonite [board, Kirkeby used to underlayment for his painting].. not painting them black and instead making them beautiful, I’ve wondered if I have sold that particular idea. Edvard Munch, as he got older, sat at his home and painted like a wild man. Those works were not very popular and have come to be considered the 'wrong' Munch. But that’s how you need to be when you get old. I call it the arrogance of age: You don’t need recognition. You just don’t care.
  • But through the 1990's I developed signatures, somewhat radical and unmistakably mine. Francis Picabia remains my hero. The more you dive into his work, the wilder it becomes. He painted the skewed Cubist paintings that we all know. Then came the kitsch works. And he ended up doing these strange, abstract works that are impossible to grasp. Whenever you think you’ve got him, he’s always moved along. That’s what I aspire to do.
  • I have a garden and across the road, a park. I never go for walks, but I look out the window and 'ask for permission' [to paint the view] as I call it. If I need some green, I find it there. In that sense, I’m a very old-fashioned painter, tied to nature. But I remain modern in that I execute some rather impious structures. I will react if I feel that my paintings, though abstract, become too naturalistic. I have another studio in Italy and I worked a lot there this summer. I still depend on my surroundings, so some of my work was very influenced by the Italian landscape, its olive trees and the very cold green color of the leaves. You could identify the specific landscape in those paintings and it drove me crazy. So I had to destroy them. But even destruction can still help underline what is good about a picture.
  • A structure-less painting is, to me, a painting that does not matter. Structure mirrors your degree of responsibility toward the work. You can’t just let it float around in pretty colors. It needs a kind of core. But this is an inner structure. It does correspond to being a geologist — the metaphor may be trite, but it works. Like when you see these breathtaking mountains in strange colors in eastern Greenland. As a geologist, you want to know what exactly they’re doing.
  • I became part of this German wave of new painting and sculpture [ w:Neo-expressionism ], even though I didn’t fit in. Baselitz and the other young German artists, their paintings were demonstrative figuration, while my work was more lyrical and Cubist, based on still life. None of the curators of the exhibitions at the time knew what to do with it. I could see that they almost wished I’d just withdraw. But it’s an outsider position with which I’ve been really comfortable. I was able to extend myself within my own thing, which wasn’t very successful internationally. My work was not punchy enough. I succeeded in constantly evading branding. My history with Fluxus is actually quite funny. I went to New York in 1966 as a relatively young man, wanting to meet all these artists. Denmark was extremely small and stuffy. In high school I had discovered something called Jackson Pollock, and I was furious that no one had told me about this before.. .I was calling around, saying, 'Hello, I’m a Danish artist. I would like to meet you.'
  • ..I also got to meet w:George Maciunas, the father of Fluxus. I wanted to know what this Fluxus was, so I asked him, 'If I put salt in a tea bag and then into hot water, then the salt will dissolve, and when you pull the bag up, there is nothing in it. Is that Fluxus?' 'Let’s make that one right away,' Maciunas replied. And it became a Fluxus object. I told him that I was a painter and that I would keep painting. 'Well,' he said, 'that doesn’t matter, as long as you do it the right way.' Getting to know him, I understood that the right way was with a certain sense of justice.

Quotes about Per Kirkeby[edit]

  • Like Willem de Kooning, Kirkeby is a virtuoso at creating unity from.. ..visual chaos.. .We Americans tend to think that Abstract Expressionism is a style of the past, dependent upon a worldview that no longer commands assent. And we have become suspicious of painterly virtuosity. This exhibition shows that we are wrong - Kirkeby’s splendid paintings demonstrate that Abstract Expressionism is a living tradition.
    • David Carrier, in 'Per Kirkeby at Michael Werner', review of the exhibition at Michael Werner Gallery, New York, September 2011

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