PER KIRKEBY (1938-2018)
PER KIRKEBY (1938-2018)

Inferno VII

PER KIRKEBY (1938-2018)
Inferno VII
signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘PER KIRKEBY 1993 Inferno VII København’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78 x 51in. (198.1 x 129.5cm.)
Painted in 1993
Michael Werner Gallery, New York.
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1997).
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2003).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 11 February 2020, lot 28.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Santa Fe, Laura Carpenter Fine Art, Per Kirkeby: The Inferno Series, 1993, p. 28 (unpaged, pl. vii).
Southampton, Jeff Lincoln Art+Design, The Organic Impulse in Contemporary Art & Design, 2017.

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Lot Essay

Painted in 1993, Inferno VII is one of eight works belonging to Per Kirkeby’s Inferno series, others of which are housed in the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. These works were made in the early 1990s, during one of Per Kirkeby’s most important periods of monumental landscape painting. Following in the tradition of the great Romantic painters of the 19th century such as Caspar David Friedrich and Edward Lear, Kirkeby’s large-scale vision of a raging inferno emphasises the exhilarating power of the natural world. Feverish vertical orange brushstrokes lick and envelop the other abstract forms, mimicking the blaze’s frenzied spread across the canvas. Sgraffito marks claw the surface of the instinctively active painting; more smoothly applied blocks of green and navy remain untouched by the flames. Kirkeby’s strident colour scheme and vertical lineation are characteristic of his works from the early 1980s onwards. This, coupled with the vast scale he began to employ in this period, exaggerates the feeling of awe that confronts the viewer. Describing the sensation, Poul Erik Tøjner writes: ‘At the almost unrecognisable end of the spectrum, we may have simple landscape forms reduced to movement. Rarely in horizontal sections, more often as a vertical dive, like a waterfall … drawing the gaze into the darkness without promising any release there’ (P. E. Tøjner, Per Kirkeby Painting, Köln 2003, p. 33).

By the year Inferno VII was produced, Kirkeby had spent decades exploring many different mediums and processes. From his initial studies in geology, which allowed him to explore through the Arctic and Central America, Kirkeby found himself entering the Experimental Art School in Copenhagen during the 1960s. It was during these years that he began painting on Masonite, often incorporating flowers and dried leaves into his works to allow the paintings to decay and evolve over time. Having spent time with and greatly admiring Joseph Beuys, Kirkeby also experimented with blackboards. It was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that he finally incorporated more traditional oil on canvas into his oeuvre. Kirkeby was energised by the added freedom and gestural expression that could be achieved through the medium. In 1993, the year Inferno VII was painted, Kirkeby represented Denmark for a third time at the Venice Biennale and received the Arthur Köpcke Prize of Honour, as well as the Ars Fennica Award from the Henna and Pertti Niemistö Art Foundation.

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