With its richly-layered, earthy and tactile surface, Untitled, 2005, bears witness to Per Kirkeby's approach to the canvas as a site upon which to explore the relationship between art and natural sciences. Figurative elements traced in vigorous brushstrokes - the outline of a trunk, the intricate twisting of branches - mingle in a predominantly abstract composition of warm ochre, red and green tones. A horizon line is traced in an unusually high position, drawing attention to the underground world of roots, vegetation and soil that lies beneath it. Originally a student of geology, Kirkeby's practice harnesses his fascination with natural history whilst appropriating the gestural language of Abstract Expressionism. Choosing a vertical orientation, the artist breaks one of the most established rules of landscape painting, transforming Untitled in an intimate portrait of his Danish homeland: a recurring subject throughout his career. Geological stratification is translated onto the canvas in a series of painterly layers and rich, intermingling hues. As the artist has explained, 'A structureless painting is, to me, a painting that does not matter. Structure mirrors your degree of responsibility toward the work. You can't just let it float around in pretty colours. It needs a kind of core. But this is an inner structure. It does correspond to being a geologist - the metaphor may be trite, but it works. Like when you see these breathtaking mountains in strange colours in eastern Greenland. As a geologist, you want to know what exactly they're doing (P. Kirkeby, quoted in N. Hartvig, 'Danish Icon Per Kirkeby, Now on View at Phillips Collection, Refuses to Settle', in Blouin Art Info, 19 December 2012 [accessed 26 February 2015]).
Oscillating between figuration and abstraction, Untitled engages the mystic magnetism of Scandinavian nature, a direct source of inspiration for Kirkeby. 'I have a garden and across the road, a park', he explains. 'I never go for walks, but I look out the window and "ask for permission," as I call it. If I need some green, I find it there. In that sense, I'm a very old-fashioned painter, tied to nature. But I remain modern in that I execute some rather impious structures. I will react if I feel that my paintings, though abstract, become too naturalistic' (P. Kirkeby, quoted in N. Hartvig, 'Danish Icon Per Kirkeby, Now on View at Phillips Collection, Refuses to Settle', in Blouin Art Info, 19 December 2012 [accessed 26 February 2015]). Resonating with the lineage of German Neo-Expressionism, in
particular the work of Georg Baselitz, Kirkeby’s paintings engage with their subject matter on an emotive, rather than a literal, level. With its vivid brushwork, Untitled embodies the artist’s visceral response to the native landscape that lies at the heart of his practice.