This fall the Bowdoin College Museum of Art proudly acquired Per Kirkeby’s Skowhegan V. The painting represents a significant addition to the Museum’s collection of landscapes, reflecting its commitment to the mid-coast Maine region, while also adding an important international perspective.
Widely celebrated, the Danish artist has achieved renown as a draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, filmmaker, and writer of essays on art and artists. But painting largely remains at the core of Kikeby’s practice. Rarely representational in any conventional sense, Kirkeby’s paintings often reference Nordic landscapes, primarily of Scandinavia and the Arctic, and reflect the artist’s training as a geologist, as well as his profound knowledge of art history. Layered like geological sediments, his paintings hide as much as they reveal. The textured surfaces often capture highly abstracted recurring motifs such as tree trunks, crystals, or reflections in water. His works invite extended looking and reveal themselves over time, as the viewer begins to understand the painting process.
Skowhegan V originated at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine, in 1991. Kirkeby participated in the program that summer and created a series of five paintings, of which this is the fifth. Despite the painting’s fairly modest size, Skowhegan V is bold and complex enough to provide the opportunity to discuss Kirkeby’s accomplishments in the broadest terms, exemplifying his reinterpretation of the landscape painting tradition. Skowhegan V appeared in the Per Kirkeby retrospective that traveled to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in 2013.
Born in Copenhagen, Per Kirkeby first enrolled in the University of Copenhagen to study geology and graduated in 1964. Between 1958 and 1972 he repeatedly traveled to Greenland to do field work. His experience of the arctic landscape led him to the visual arts. He studied at the Experimental Art School in the Danish capital starting in 1962. Initially influenced by artistic movements such as Tachism, Abstract Expressionism, and Fluxus, Kirkeby developed an approach to painting that takes full account of his scientific as well as artistic training. He described his practice as layering color like geological sediments.
Per Kirkeby’s work can be found at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum; Harvard Art Museums; Tate Modern, and many other American and international museums. The artist, who has been featured in numerous international exhibitions, has been well known to European audiences since he asserted himself as a member of a young generation of painters in exhibitions such as A New Spirit in Painting (1981), at the Royal Academy in London. The recent U.S. retrospective shown at Bowdoin in 2013, and organized by the Phillips Collection, Washington D.C., brought the breadth of the artist’s accomplishments over the last five decades to American audiences.
Kirkeby lives in Copenhagen and Laeso, Denmark, and Arnasco, Italy.