Jan 062013

“New Shadows V” 1996 Oil on canvas 63 x 63″. Per Kirkeby, Private collection.

A lovely gift took me and my youngest to the Per Kirkeby exhibit at the Phillips Collection. A massive show for that gallery, I found most of the work to be interesting–powerful–but with a few exceptions not in a color palate that resonated. Excepting the canvas above.

We stood though, and watched the latter part of a bio-video from 1996 that accompanied the exhibit. A wonderful film (whose title I can’t seem to source) that followed Kirkeby through the process of creating one canvas. And that’s where the resonance kicked in. Watching him build and rebuild, scaffold-squatting as he worked the top areas, bringing other canvases to visually enter a concept, and repeatedly sitting in an overstuffed chair to take in the place the painting had moved to before going at it again–all the while commenting on the process–my head began to nod in agreements. Especially with the solid understanding that building–layering strokes on strokes has nothing really to do with the current buzz-terms of “destroy,” and “deconstruction.” But rather the uppermost layers would never be possible without the under-structure work. Not that the previous is a framework, but a layer of concept that allows the exploration of change.

In this culture we are so trained to strive toward completion, ownership and the demonstration to ourselves and others of our skills that we seem to be losing the essential gift of impermanence. We see a wonderful sandcastle on the beach and are unable to grasp that one of the intrinsic beauties is that the next high tide will obliterate it. We are always a little shocked and dismayed to discover some masterwork contains evidence of reworking by the artist. The term pentimento is the Italian word for repentance or regret. As though the artist has “fixed” some earlier error.

Suppose though, we allow ourselves to think of this process as forward motion. An ongoing process of exploration combined with a joyful recognition of experiencing the present moment of any work. My earliest teachers taught me, respect for supplies aside, that no working at the art is ever wasted–but that no one piece is sacred. How freeing it is to work that way.

  One Response to “Necessary Layers”

  1. Wonderful, Julianne. It makes even more sense when one considers the fact that WE are impermanent works in progress.

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