He may have studied arctic geology in his native Denmark, trafficked with the ’60s Fluxus movement, shot films, and built architectonic brick sculptures, but Per Kirkeby is a painter’s painter. Painters are a quirky, cantankerous breed who view their surroundings through prisms of color and shape, distilling the natural world into varying degrees of abstract composition. (Even the most realistic rendering by Vermeer bludgeons three dimensions into two.) Kirkeby’s eclectic visual background allied with his knowledge of the surfaces and substrata of glacial landforms helps kindle the slow-burning impact of these spare and beautiful paintings. Each of the 11, four-foot-square works is done on a matte black Masonite ground. Some feature images of planks, the faux wood grain scraped on with a palette knife, or fallen logs scumbled with an iridescent, lime-colored fungus; others leap into abstract abysses of red scribbles or oxidized, coppery green slabs. This fluctuation between depictions of the material world and evocations of the subliminal forms underpinning it lends Kirkeby’s art the unsentimental elegance of nature itself.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 27, 2005