Before becoming an artist, Per Kirkeby was a geologist,a practitioner in a profession that allowed him to have an experience of nature that was both sentimental and scientific. According to Kirkeby, a geologist lives in direct contact with the earth and carries out expeditions, sometimes of extreme, to study the history of the planet through its rocky strata. But a geologist “returns home ” and the artist says, keeps a “diary full of maps and plans, graphic hypotheses drawn in India ink with a pointed pen, written beneath a tent after daily wanderings along the large mountain ridges of the great desert.” This dual approach to nature, simultaneously empathetic and rational, can be seen in Kirkeby ’s painting (which is only one of the mediums the artist uses, along with sculpture, poetry, film and photography). Kirkeby began painting in 1964,and since then has created work that is vehemently gestural but at the same time maintains the sense of structure that precisely orders his compositions.
Skumring (Sunset), 1983 –84, is made up of planes of color that dissolve into one another, but with each plane retaining its own identity. The canvas appears to allude to a landscape, but the fundamental role of recognition is left to the viewer’s intuition. Kirkeby ’s imagery exist in an ambiguous intermediary zone, in which it would be difficult to say whether formlessness is the process of dissolving form, or of generating form. The artist has said that “geology is the doctrine of forces that lie behind forms, their destruction as much as their construction. And this also signifies suppositions.” Like the geologist facing a mountain
with his notes and plans, the viewer confronting similar works can only decipher them through suppositions, that is, by attributing recognizable meanings to the signs.
The structure of the work, however, is always strongly delineated; Kirkeby’s landscape is earthy, original, it is the place of “power”. Thus the artist is presenting us not with form, but rather with formation —the very act of form taking shape.