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Danish artist Per Kirkeby has died, aged 79

The painter was well known for his opaque, semi-abstract canvases inspired by natural history

Per Kirkeby Federico Gambarini, DPA Picture Alliance Archive Alamy. Courtesy Michael Werner Gallery, New York and London

The artist Per Kirkeby died today (9 May) in Copenhagen, aged 79, according to his gallery, Michael Werner.

Born in the Danish capital in 1938, Kirkeby was a painter, sculptor, poet, novelist, film-maker, and costume and stage designer. He experimented with Fluxus performance in the 1960s with people like Joseph Beuys before becoming particularly well known for his opaque, semi-abstract canvases that critics and historians regularly discussed in terms of geological strata, recalling the artist's background as a student of geology and natural history at the University of Copenhagen.

In 2012, the Phillips Collection hosted an exhibition of his paintings and sculptures, where the curator Klaus Ottmann concisely explained that Kirkeby’s great contribution was to combine landscape and history painting, establishing a kind of “natural history painting”.

Yet these paintings famously defied easy viewing. In the 1980s, the critic Peter Schjeldahl described what he called “the Kirkeby Effect” as “a slower, inchoate, darker contemplation, a state of mind hypersensitive and a bit stupid… The Effect is somber, even sullen, but with patience there is a stirring in its depths, the beginning of a grateful joy.”