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Garden
Original title: Grotraer
1988
Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 200 x 200 cm
Reference: ACF0494
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Kirkeby’s training in geology is rather like the visible face that explains his interest in nature. Inevitably, the confluence of nature and art takes the form of a genre: landscape. Kirkeby has devoted a large part of his work to that genre, which means that his paintings emerge from a reflection on it and a traditional pictorial composition. To put it another way, he works on a historical archetype of art. However, in this work from 1988 it is impossible to identify either landscape or nature in the image itself; only the title refers us to the idea of landscape, in this case a garden. In 1967 he produced a book made up exclusively of photographs of landscapes. Some of the images were ones he had taken himself; others were collected from magazines and postcards. In 1978 he published another volume, this time including poems, with photographs taken on his travels. Kirkeby has said that travel is a process of sedimentation, of gathering images and structures. And this process of sedimentation is a key aspect of his approach to producing a painting. Grotraer does not depict an identifiable garden, but various layers, dominated by black, on which he superimposes large blue, green and yellow patches. There are no narrative elements, only a compositional play in tension: the abstract appearance of the picture is negated because we know it is a garden, but there is no identifiable figuration; we recognise it only because of the title. Kirkeby deliberately eliminates any illusionist visual trap; he even avoids a sense of depth, opting instead to create a ‘carpet effect’ that explains the tension between figuration and abstraction. At the same time, the final result, flat and dark, refers to the tradition of Danish ‘dark painting’ of the 1930s; in other words, he returns to a traditional compositional scheme. Kirkeby’s refusal to give his painting an illusionist, narrative character reflects not so much his decision to limit himself strictly to painting techniques in his painting as his desire for the finished work to convey an experience of reality. For him, art is a process through which we gain knowledge of what is real; painting is simply a medium, as sculpture and film have been on other occasions. This explains his choice of subject: a garden, where nature is tamed and acted on by human beings. He is more interested in is experiencing reality and landscape as a cultural construct than in discovering nature in its pure state. His work thus reflects not only the influence of Expressionism but also, and more intensely, the tradition of Romanticism.

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