Per Kirkeby was one of Denmark's most significant painters. For more than four decades he worked with virtually all forms of artistic expressions: painting, drawing, sculpture, graphics, theatrical design and film. Additionally, he was an author, and wrote poems, essays and artist monographics. Per Kirkeby died in may 2018 at the age of 79.
Per Kirkeby (b. 1938)
Per Kirkeby had an education in natural history from the University of Copenhagen (1964-67), an education which brought him to Greenland. He studied art The Experimental Art School, also known as The Ex-school, together with for instance Poul Gernes. At The Ex-school several of the artists rejected the painting and instead focused on other forms of expression - amongst other the art forms, Happenings, which Per Kirkeby also made use of. However, he still made use of the painting, and especially American Pop Art and Minimalism had a strong influence on him in the 1960s.
Per Kirkeby has categorized himself as an eclectic who, from a wealth of materials, creates his own system. The many references are clear in his works. For instance one might find traces of other artists' works, Pop Art, popular culture and geography. In regards to his paintings, he moved into a more abstract idiom that seems to take its starting point in both Romanticism and Classicism. With large sizes and an enormous colour palette, he conjured an abstract form which results in sensuous paintings that seem rooted in landscape and nature, and in the many layers certain configurations also become somehow visible.
Uden titel, 2011
In 1973 Per Kirkeby erected a sculpture in the town of Ikast. A small brick building, which both refer to the craft tradition in Denmark and the ruinel buildings in the Mayan culture. Since then, he made several monumental sculptures in public space. Both in Års, Humlebæk, Gentofte and several other places his sculptures can be seen. He conducted several large decorative commissions, including the rotunda in The Geological Museum, a 452 square meter decoration in the lecture building of Aarhus University, and four bronze reliefs for the Opera in Copenhagen. He has made several solo exhibitions around the world, and is also represented in major international collections.
PER KIRKEBY AND HEART
Per Kirkeby's collection of works at HEART focuses on drawings and watercolours created during 1966 to 1976. The works span from Ex-school experiments to that of Per Kirkeby's essential travel to the South American jungle. Several of these art works serve as a prelude to Per Kirkeby's exhibition at the Venice Biennale back in 1978. The works in HEART's collection were made during a period when Per Kirkeby was involved with the Ex-school. The Ex-school was a distinct working collective, which used a process-oriented way of making art. Here the artists emphasized the abstract and geometric style of art. Ex-school students also included artists such as Bjørn Nørgaard and Poul Gernes.
Spilleregler, 1966. Foto: Gunnar Merrild
Per Kirkeby spent his time at the Ex-school exploring new media and new methods. But in some way, he also maintained a certain use of figuration and a focus on the importance of the subject. For instance, popular culture and women faces from magazines rapidly snug into his motives or other evocative elements. Silhouette-like figures, bright colors and a playful interest in the "surface" of the motives show his significance use of Pop Art. His experiences from his many journeys, for instance in New York City, Central America and Greenland, is also visible in his works. On the basis of his many trips a world of landscapes, architecture and human figures originate.