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Jennifer's Discussion Group: Vija Celmins

Vija Celmins’s art uses exquisite detail to depict natural scenes such as oceans, deserts, night skies, and infinite space. She utilizes a dark palette in her work consisting mostly of whites, blacks, and grays. Her images often lack a focal point or horizon line and instead investigate on the vastness of the subject matter. Celmins is originally from Riga, Latvia, but her family immigrated to the United States when she was ten years old and they lived in Indiana. Celmins’s works mostly in oil paint on canvas, but she has also worked in sculpture, charcoal drawing, and printmaking. The primary theme of her work is about exploring genuinely timeless natural forms. Her work depicts tangible spaces that evoke a sense of awe in the viewer.

Celmins’s work is inspired by natural phenomena that are quite common, such as the stars in the sky and delicate spider webs. She gets her ideas directly from nature and she is able to render it flawlessly. She experiments with depicting three-dimensional spaces on two-dimensional surfaces. Celmins makes art because she is inspired by her own life. She aims to capture small moments of awakening through art because she cannot put them into words. It is through her artwork that she can share experiences like walking on the beach and staring into the night sky with the world. Celmins’s work focuses on realism much more than any of the other artists we have talked about in class. Many of the contemporary artists we have discussed aim to create something entirely new rather than replicate the natural world as Celmins does.

I think it is interesting to compare Celmins’s work with that of Suzanne Opton’s. Both women artists aim to capture reality in some way. Celmins takes a literal approach by actually mimicking nature, while Opton chooses depict reality in a much more subtle way. Opton photographs soldiers to expose the reality of war and its effect on people. Celmins relates to her audience by sharing the same experience with them. In her famous Night Sky 2, both the artist and the viewer can become equally lost in the painting. They share the experience of awe in face of nature. Opton relates to her audience by leaving her work rather open-ended. The viewer is left to draw their own conclusions as to what the photographs are saying.

I would definitely refer this artist to a friend. I would encourage this friend to go to an exhibit of Celmins’s work because it is so awe-inspiring. The subject matter alone is incredible, but paired with Celmins’s passionate and flawless skill, the works are truly extraordinary. The viewer can easily get lost in the immense detail of her paintings. I think it would be very enjoyable and inspiring to see these works up close in real life.

1. “Vija Celmins Biography.” Art in the Twenty-First Century. 2007. PBS.

2. Whiting, Cecile. “‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’: The Cyborg Eye of Vija Celmins.” American Art. Spring 2009: Vol. 23 no. 1. 36-55.

Liz Pelton