Vija Celmins

American (born 1938)
Vija Celmins Untitled (Desert-Galaxy) 1974 © Vija Celmins.


Born 1938
Nationality American

Born in Latvia in 1938, Celmins and her family emigrated to the United States in 1948. Although beginning her career as an Abstract Expressionist painter, she is now best known for her intricate, monochromatic drawings of a select range of subjects. In 1966 she began to use photographs as the subject for her works, creating what she described as “impossible images” which remind us of the complexity of the simplest things. These meticulous renderings of the surface of the ocean, expanses of desert, the night sky, or a spider’s web, demonstrate her fascination with the surrounding world. With a slow, painstaking approach, some of these works take up to a year to complete.

Glossary terms

  • A print made from an image carved into a block of wood cut along the grain. Blank areas are cut away leaving an image in relief from which a print is made.

  • Late 20th century art that includes a great variety of styles, so is hard to define but is often characterised as a reaction against the formalism perceived to dominate Modernism. In architecture, it describes a style which borrows from many different traditions and which contrasts with the clarity and simplicity of many modernist buildings.