The poetic paintings of Per Kirkeby Hon RA play out in a no man’s land between abstraction and figuration – a territory that the viewer finds hard to map.
Per Kirkeby, Ohne Titel, 2012. Oil on canvas, 300 x 350 cm. PK 1386. Courtesy Michael Werner Gallery, New York and London
Three huge oils are the highlights of his current exhibition of at Mayfair’s Michael Werner, which is Kirkeby’s first show in London since the Tate Modern retrospective of his work in 2009. In one of these works (pictured above) that dates from last year, his gestural brushstrokes – spread in a characteristically riotous range of colour – seem to represent a kaleidoscopic landscape folding in on itself, as if John Martin’s The Great Day of His Wrath (1851–3) was reworked by the lovechild of Vincent van Gogh and Willem de Kooning.
Downstairs the Danish artist seems more clearly indebted to the Dutchman, in a five-metre wide canvas from 1998 that appears to present a patchwork of Arles-like trees and fields on one hand, a strange conglomeration of geometric scribbled sections on the other. The viewer’s eyes oscillate between these two possibilities, never settling for either. Kirkeby’s “strange mixture of alternating pictorial transparency and opacity”, in the words of critic Robert Storr, holds our attention without allowing any resolution.