Per Kirkeby

(b. 1938)

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(1938– )

Danish painter, sculptor, and writer, born in Copenhagen. He studied as an Arctic geologist as well as an artist; the one activity has sometimes informed the other. He was a member of Fluxus and early work was influenced by Pop art. In 1969 he designed a clock which appeared a normal object until it was noticed that the face was numbered from one to seventeen. Instead of measuring time, it measured its own circumference. He is best known for semi-abstract paintings in a distinctive colour range, making great use of greys, dirty greens, velvety reds, and ochres, which can be related to the sublime tradition of landscape (Kirkeby is an admirer of Turner). There is also a rich surface treatment with scratched and dripped paint suggesting weathered rock surfaces suddenly and dramatically illuminated. Kirkeby has talked of ‘the light from the cave opening, the light that is often reflected upon into the cave's inn'ards, the inner light, this light seems to promise visions’. But he has also said: ‘I am not a landscape painter. I am from the city.’ This city background is more apparent in his brick sculptures, which reference traditional Danish housing and more particularly the Grundtvig Church, Copenhagen, a building of the 1920s which Kirkeby values because of its ‘radical roughness and “lack of serenity”’. His sculptures have expanded to an architectural scale, as in Wanås (1994, Wanås Sculpture Park, Knislinge, Sweden).

Further Reading

J. Alison and C. Brown, Border Crossings: Fourteen Scandinavian Artists (1992)Whitechapel Art Gallery, Per Kirkeby: Recent Painting and Sculpture (1985)

Subjects: Art.

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