Nicolai Hartvig interviews painter Per Kirkeby about his work and career.
Kirkeby comments: " In the 1980s, when I decided to begin to paint in oil on canvas in the great European tradition — a decisive turning point for me — there was an openness and an incertitude to the work. Each painting was different, and that is what I wanted. But through the 1990s 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."
McMahon writes: "If you take a formal element of Kirkeby’s early works and follow it into his mature paintings, which begin in earnest around 1980 and comprise the majority of the Phillips exhibition, you can see how his language develops to address this big theme; that is, how our experience of the world is informed by the complexities of seeing. Let’s take scale, which in the mature works is used to create space by both conventional means (large forms come forward, small forms recede, those that overlap find their relative places as a result), and by unconventional ones (wherein, for instance, a grove of distant trees will be painted on top of a form in the near space). The function of the conventional scale is obvious enough; it creates literal space. To understand the function of the unconventional scale shifts, it’s helpful to have Kirkeby’s early works nearby. Outsized scale, used in works like Regicide to emphasize narrative components (The bird has taken flight! The fox has darted away into the night!), has been repurposed in the mature works to emphasize the narrative of looking."
In the film, Kirkeby discusses the experience of seeing his entire body of work represented in a single exhibition. He notes remarks that "it doesn't care too much if it's from the 60's or from last year - it's kind of the same thing... apparently there are certain structures, certain ways of organizing a painting that's there, that I'm born with as a painter."
"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."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.