Vija Celmins

Latvia / Usa / °1938 / wikipedia
"Look and make your hand do what your eyes see. How you draw it becomes what it is. Keep your eyes on an object just to see how much looking you can do.'
—Vija Celmins

Vija Celmins is an acclaimed Latvian-American visual artist best known for photo-realistic paintings and drawings of natural environments and phenomena such as the ocean, spider webs, star fields, and rocks. Her earlier work included pop sculptures and monochromatic representational paintings. Based in New York City, she has been the subject of over forty solo exhibitions since 1965, and major retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Vija Celmins (pronounced VEE-ya SELL-muns, TSEL-meench, in Latvian) was born on October 25, 1938, in Riga, Latvia. Upon the Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940, her parents and older sister Inta fled to Germany, survived the refugee-despising Nazi regime, and then lived in a UN supported Latvian refugee camp in Esslingen am Neckar, Baden-Württemberg. After World War II, in 1948, the Church World Service relocated the family to the USt, briefly in NYC, then in Indianapolis, Indiana. Sponsored by a local Lutheran church, her father found work as a carpenter, and her mother in a hospital laundry. Vija was 10, and spoke no English, which caused her to focus on drawing, leading her teachers to encourage further creativity and painting.

In 1955, she entered the John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis, where she has said that for the first time in her life, she did not feel like an outsider. In 1961 she won a Fellowship to attend a Summer session at Yale University, where she met Chuck Close and Brice Marden, who would remain close friends. It was during this time she began to study Italian monotone still life painter Giorgio Morandi, and painted abstract works. In 1962 she graduated...
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Martha Schulman


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