A chorus of colour flickers against a diaphanous white in Per Kirkeby’s Ohne Titel (Untitled), a rare early painting by the Danish artist. Central to the semi-abstracted composition is a singular vertical form, a gesture to Tibetan stupas—or the structures in which the ashes of the Lama are housed—as depicted by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé; his cover for Tintin au Tibet directly inspired the present work. As in Herge’s image, Kirkeby’s stupa too stands within an ovoid background, inset within the larger painting; in Untitled, the sky has been rendered in a vivid green. Against a multicoloured ground, Untitled contains two skies, and thus two worlds, a means of reinforcing a multivalent and at times deceptive sense of reality. Kirkeby has used the geological term ‘sedimentation’ to describe his practice of laying paint, which here seems to speak as much to his chromatic accretions as it does to the mutable nature of temporality (P. Kirkeby and A. Schnack (eds.), Writings on Art, Putnam 2012, p.76).
Created in 1968, and held in the same private collection since that year, Ohne Titel has featured in major retrospectives of Kirkeby’s work at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne (1987) and the Tate Modern, London (2009-2010), among others. The work is part of the series that Kirkeby began in 1967 in which he painted on board, a material he began using while still a student at Copenhagen’s avant-garde art school Eks-Skolen. As opposed to canvas, board offered Kirkeby a means of critiquing art history by collapsing the divide between high and low cultural materials. This choice would come to influence his celebrated blackboard paintings, and he would return to the format throughout his career.
Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustrated (detail).