Thursday, October 6, 2011

Vija Celmins

“I see drawing as thinking, as evidence of thinking, evidence of going from one place to another.” – Vija Celmins

Week by week I pour over my drawings and week by week I think to myself, “I’ll just put in another hour, just another hour.” One hour turns to two and two to three and soon enough it is 3 AM and my mind is getting fuzzy but I can’t seem to want to put the pencil down because I know that there could be more detail, there could always be more detail.

Due to my utter ignorance of artists in any capacity, I knew that this project would probably get off to a bit of a rocky start. As I sat down to look through a few large and broad collections of artists work I had an open mind and I looked until I saw something that really caught my eye: Vija Celmin’s work “Untitled” drawn in 1973 (pictured below).

Stunningly beautiful in its intricacies and spatially distinct in its ability to use perspective to enter the space of the viewer, it was striking. Vija Celmins did her first drawing of the Pacific Ocean in 1968. Much of her previous work with the ocean filled the entire page, the rippling surface of the ocean filling the senses of the viewer. In 1973 Vija began to dabble with other perspectives and relegated the ocean to the lower portion of the page creating a large and distinct negative space that filled the majority of her ocean drawing above.

Vija Celmins was originally born in Latvia in 1938 and lived there with her family until October of 1944 when the advance of the Soviet army caused them to flee. The traveled to Berlin and attempted to head west with other Latvians trying to get closer to American troops. Eventually, in 1948, the Church World Service brought the Celmins family to the United States. After four months in New York City the family settled in Indianapolis. Vija spent most of her time drawing in school since should could neither speak nor read English. By 1955 Celmins had entered the John Herron Art Institute of Indianapolis. During her time here she received a scholarship to attend the Yale Summer school of Music and Art in Norfolk, Connecticut.

In the fall of 1962 Vija left for Los Angeles California due in part to a grant offered to her from UCLA. Her early work here started as paintings and gradually evolved into monochromatic drawings of still lives. At the end of the 1960s Celmins produced several works that were a continuation of her earlier paintings: giant erasers, pencils, and a comb taller than the artist herself all reminiscent of her interest in Pop Art aesthetics. She moved to drawings of still lives of two-dimensional or nearly two-dimensional drawings. One of her first being of a letter (Letter – 1968, pictured below) set on a gray background. One of the things that I admire about her drawings is the realistic nature and this drawing is not exception, crafted beautifully with intricate detail that comes strikingly close to photography.

Celmins was an avid photographer and would use hers, and other artists, photographs to create drawings. One such drawing is pictured below (Clouds – 1968).

Her drawings evolved into depictions of outer space, stemming mostly from images taken by the Soviet space probe Luna 9 and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her work in space drawings was extensive and Celmins was said to “explore an image until she had exhausted all of its possibilities.” This is what I love about her drawings; the detail and realistic nature of her drawings is absolutely stunning.

Celmins took a hiatus from drawing in 1983 and returned to painting. She picked up drawing again in 1994 with a new series of nighttime skies and space content. Her drawing style also changed somewhat drastically during her second bout of drawing. She switched from graphite on an acrylic ground to charcoal and an eraser; this aided her detail in deeply saturated space drawings. Finally, the newest theme in Vija’s collection is the spider web. Web #1 (1998) is shown below and much like her earlier drawings were saturated with detail and realism.

The meticulous care with which Vija Celmins has produced her drawings has never wavered. Every time her hand touched the paper her moves were precise, calculated, thought out, and considered from the type of paper, image size and the content of imagery itself. She is someone I look up to in drawings and I get lost looking at her drawings, mesmerized by the intricacies and techniques in which she can employ so much realistic detail to each work. Her drawings are simple yet utterly complicated in an almost paradoxical fashion that I thoroughly enjoy.

-Julia Weidner


Brodie, Judith, and Andrew Robison. A Century of Drawing: Works on Paper from Degas to LeWitt. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2001. 266-67. Print.

Celmins, Vija, and Annie Pérez. Vija Celmins Dessins, Drawings: [Vija Celmins, L'oeuvre Dessiné, Paris, Centre Pompidou, Galerie Du Musée, 25 Octobre 2006 - 8 Janvier 2007, Vija Celmins, a Drawings Retrospective, Los Angeles, The Hammer Museum, 28 Janvier - 22 Avril 2007] = Vija Celmins Drawings. Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2006. Print.

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