PER KIRKEBY

Archaïque ou reléguée, la figure du peintre serait à ce point inestimable qu’elle ne pourrait, ou ne saurait, prétendre revendiquer ses valeurs ? Poser la question, ainsi, on en convient, relève du paradoxe. D’abord, parce qu’à l’évidence, cette interrogation vient, un peu narquoisement, en amont d’un catalogue reproduisant les récentes peintures de l’artiste danois Per Kirkeby, ce qui démontre donc qu’il existe bien et toujours une actualité, une acuité et un amour vivants entre artiste et public – si l’on veut nommer ainsi ceux qui regardent les tableaux dans une galerie ou un musée. Ensuite, parce que cet aveu d’incapable jugement définitif sur la « chose picturale » semble embarrasser, pourquoi donc vouloir à tout prix conjuguer l’art avec une certaine empathie du monde ? A cela, Per Kirkeby a répondu à sa manière :

“L’art de peindre, écrit-il, est évidemment à la fois incroyablement naïf et cynique. Naïf parce qu’il n’y a pas de raison honnête ou évidente de barbouiller du pigment dilué sur un morceau d’étoffe ou sur un autre support. Et cynique parce qu’un tableau ne s’inquiète pas de la destruction du monde. Même une peinture représentant le jour du Jugement dernier et le départ vers l’enfer n’est pas portée par l’inquiétude mais par le réalisme. C’est ainsi. La destruction du monde est inhérente au fait de peindre un tableau…”

Constat lucide : le tableau porte, en toute invention, une part relative d’impuissance qui le fortifieraient ; et l’artiste en revendique non plus d’en être tout à fait seulement la source mais aussi le commentateur émerveillé. D’où l’idée, maintes fois exprimée par Kirkeby lui-même, que la peinture demeure, au cœur des mouvements modernes, un lieu d’hypothèses plus que de prosélytisme. Cette élégance et cette relative distance nourrissent toute l’œuvre de l’artiste dont on pressent la volonté tenace, presque furieuse, de se mêler des affaires du monde : on sait qu’il a entrecroisé bien des activités, assumant avec entrain les rôles de peintre, de sculpteur, écrivain, architecte, cinéaste ou géologue. Mais qu’il a en même temps imposé, par ses silences, et par ses tableaux, un certain détachement au nom de la rêverie ou de l’effacement de soi.

Sans titre, 2015, technique mixte sur masonite, 122 x 122 cm

Sans titre, 2015, technique mixte sur masonite, 122 x 122 cm

Extrait catalogue de l’exposition MASONITES

Préface de Laurent Boudier

 

Whether archaic or downgraded, has the figure of the painter become so inestimable that it is unable or no longer knows how to assert its values? To put the question in this way is, the reader will agree, paradoxical. First of all, because it rather sardonically appears, of course, at the front of a catalogue reproducing the recent paintings of Danish artist Per Kirkeby, thus demonstrating that there remains something present and intense, a love between the artist and his public (if one can use that term for those who come to look at the works in a gallery or museum). Secondly, because if this confession of incapacity regarding any definitive judgement about the matter of painting seems to embarrass, why insist on linking art and a certain empathy from the world?

Per Kirkeby has supplied his own answer to this question:

“The art of painting, he writes, is obviously both incredibly naive and cynical at the same time. Naive, because there is no honest or obvious reason to smear diluted pigment over a piece of fabric or some other support. And cynical, because a painting does not concern itself with the destruction of the world. Even a painting representing the Last Judgement and the souls being transported to hell is underpinned not by worry but by realism. That is the way it is. The destruction of the world is inherent in the fact of painting a picture…”

It is a lucid remark: whatever its invention, a painting carries with it a degree of impotence that fortifies it, and the artist claims not only to be its source but also its marvelling commentator. Hence the idea so often expressed by Kirkeby himself, that, among modern movements, painting remains a place of hypotheses more than of preaching.

This elegance and relative distance informs everything done by this artist, and we can sense his tenacious, almost furious determination to be involved with the business of the world. We know that he has combined many different activities, performing with real verve the roles of painter, sculptor, writer, architect, filmmaker and geologist. But we also know that at the same time, through his silences and through his paintings, he has asserted a certain detachment in the name of dream and self-effacement.

An activist in exile, a rigorous and romantic man of the North who declines that identity, Kirkeby pursues his ambition. To be a painter in this age that calls on everyone to be efficient, in a hurry and profitable, is to take refuge in that closed, immobile and old-fashioned place represented by both the studio and the painting. It is, as they say, to insist: for example, to keep on painting on Masonite, that industrial wood used to make cheap bookshelves that the young Kirkeby began working with in the 1960s, because that was all he could afford. Or again, to have always “but not exclusively” painted on the practical but unconventional square format of 122 by 122 centimetres. By means of these seemingly limiting methods, Per Kirkeby does his sowing and reaping. He puts down his suggestions of images, charts nocturnal atmospheres, brings forth sprouting light blues and sooty ochres, lays down shadows, starts clearing his brambly lines, and so on. In his work the picture remains that secret and contemplative object whose inward liveliness is, strangely enough, always active within the images. And if his painting refers to the landscape, to the melancholy of a Northern School (a term and category that he finds deeply irritating), or if it signals more than it designates, it always seems to opt for a subtle abandon. But, the moment we consider these paintings with empathy, the impossibility of defining the real is countered by a marvellous feeling of an intimate conversation that embraces or embarrasses the gaze. Places of survival or modest resistance that the eye grasps over time: painting is only the haunted memory of the world’s recollection and, at the same time, of our very fragile lives.

Laurent Boudier