Vija Celmins, ‘Jupiter Moon - Constellation’ 1983
Vija Celmins
Jupiter Moon - Constellation 1983
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
© Vija Celmins

“The reason I think I do images that require so much time is that I feel the physical work itself lets some other thing that came through, letting something unconsciously seep through, some subtlety that my brain was not capable of figuring out…” - Vija Celmins [1]

While there is a cosmic sense of time about Celmins elemental subject matter, it also allows the artist to approach space and light in a singular way. The subjects allow the artist to explore the relationship between deep space and the flat plane of the picture’s surface.

Influenced by Ad Reinhardt’s Twelve Rules for a New Academy 1953, Celmins started to consciously strip away elements in her art and rejected gesture and composing. Returning again and again to ocean views, lunar surfaces and star fields Celmins depicts vast expanses and creates depth through her investigation of the image and her chosen material. Most of her images, like Web #1 1999, are painted or drawn very close to the edge of the surface she is working on and seem to extend beyond the canvas and into the space occupied by the viewer.

The focal point is the small compressed image in front of you; the illusion of space from the image stays on it. As the artist describes it, the image is ‘pinned down, in your mind it wants to expand out. Reality (the art) makes it stay where it is on the wall.

“Made, invented - it is not the image experienced in life, but in another reality.” - Vija Celmins [2]

Although Celmins has been associated with several art movements during her career – including Pop Art, Minimalism and, to a lesser extent, Conceptual Art – she seems always to have operated outside the dominant trends of the day. The rigour and the intuitive nature of her process has restricted the volume of her creative output and in turn limited displays of her work. Pop artists in particular were known for their speedy production but Celmins works at her own pace and has likened herself to the spider for its precise and industrious constructions.

Shooting stars, turning planets and rippling oceans suggest movement and the passing of time in Celmins images. In the 1980s when Celmins was particularly engaged in printmaking she made the Concentric Bearings series, which explored images of ‘turning space’. [3] In the work Jupiter Moon – Constellation 1983 from the same period as the Concentric Bearings series Celmins pairs one of Jupiter’s moons with a negative image of the night sky.

Discuss the following quote from Celmins in relation to time: ‘The image stays where it has been placed so rigorously and attentively. The original photographic source is from another space we have lived in but is transferred by the making into another space.’ [4]

The Earth orbits the Sun once a year and the Moon takes approximately twenty-eight days to orbit the Earth. Using their age, ask the children to calculate the answers to the following question: How many times have they travelled around the Sun?

Artist Link
American artist Andy Warhol (1928–87) is perhaps best known for his Pop inspired paintings but started as a graphic artist before moving towards more ‘instant’ methods of production such as photography, film and screenprintng.

Notes and references
[1]. Susan Sollins, ‘Art: 21: art in the twenty-first century, Vol. 2’, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 2003, p.162. Quotation revised by artist Wednesday 11 June 2014, New York.
[2]. Correspondence with the artist, 13 May 2014.
[3]. Celmins refers to turning space in relation the Concentric Bearings series. See Samantha Rippner, The Prints of Vija Celmins, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2002, p.35.
[4]. Samantha Rippner, ‘The Prints of Vija Celmins’, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2002.p.16.