“The Danish artist (born 1938 in Copenhagen) works on motifs which he has in some cases collected years ago and uses time and again as the starting-point for his paintings. Per Kirkeby, a qualified geologist and someone who has travelled extensively, commences with memories of landscapes, still-lifes, architectures, and figures. Materiality and figuration form transitions that appear more transparent in his works on paper than in the pastose paintings on canvas. The technique of sketching reveals the working-method. Here one can see that graphically-inspired structures expand the multi-layered character of his painting. Organic handwriting sets free compositions and associations.”
Lars Morell, The Artist as Polyhistor: The 'Intellectual Superstructure' in the Work of Per Kirkeby, 294 pp, 240 x 250 mm, 150 illustrations, January 2006, Aarhus University Press.
“It has become a commonplace in Per Kirkeby exhibition catalogues to note that he earned a Master's in geology and participated in five research expeditions to Greenland, and to declare that he therefore paints in layers – as obviously only a sedimentary geologist can. Not only do curators and critics rarely delve any deeper into the relation between the work of this prolific experimental artist and his background in Arctic Quaternary geology, but they also entirely ignore the many other academic interests that inform his art, both conceptually and visually. Yet Kirkeby himself has proclaimed, “A picture without intellectual superstructure is nothing.” In “The Artist as Polyhistor”, Lars Morell provides the superstructure missing from other critical accounts by examining intellectual content and allusions in the Kirkeby oeuvre from eleven disciplinary perspectives – everything from theology to genetics and eros to crystallography. In addition, he has drawn on personal conversations with the artist, whose comments on the manuscript have also been incorporated into the final text. Morell maintains that art that is genuinely about something is necessarily full of conflict and unexpected juxtapositions. As a result, the works he has sought out here are rarely beautiful in formal terms, but instead tend to be dissonant and dynamic, featuring breaks and breaches and irreconcilable elements.”