Ocean Surface Woodcut,  woodcut, 1992, on Whatman 1953 paper, printed in collaboration with master printer Leslie Miller and published by The Grenfell Press, New York, edition of fifty plus ten artist’s proofs © Vija Celmins

Ocean Surface Woodcut, woodcut, 1992, on Whatman 1953 paper, printed in collaboration with master printer Leslie Miller and published by The Grenfell Press, New York, edition of fifty plus ten artist’s proofs © Vija Celmins

Sometimes it is quiet work that moves us most intensely                                                                          

Press Review: Vija Celmins ‘Artist Rooms’                                                                                                                  

Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Art Centre                                                                                                       29th March – 28th June 2014


Starting out as a painter back in 1960’s California, internationally renowned Latvian artist Vija Celmins, is perhaps best known for her meticulous and detailed renderings of ‘found’ imagery. Paintings, drawings and prints of ocean, moon, desert and snow reflect the artist’s long held fascination with surface.

Drawn from the Tate Gallery’s ‘Artist Rooms’ project, this exhibition, (curated by Emma Nicholson of Atlas Arts, through the Broad Reach Project - with Taigh Chearsabhagh), presents a number of Celmins’ drawings and prints, selected to resonate with aspects of the natural environment here in the Uists. Most depict star-filled night skies mapped through tiny points of light within fields of intense darkness, evocations of infinite space. In other works the cosmos presented in reverse appears at first glance to be a delicate, apparently random graphology. Closer consideration reveals, (counter-intuitively), an equally absorbing visual echo of deep space. There is something profoundly moving and wordless about these quiet works. A subtle yet powerful dynamic is at play, engaging and distancing us in turn. Celmins attributes this to the ability of an image to ‘invite you in’, into the space depicted, whilst the actuality of making, (described by the artist as a ‘mapping’ of the original), ‘keeps you out’. Our recognition of the surface on which the image is made, negates the spatial depth portrayed. It is, she says, to do with ‘intimacy and distance’. The utterly captivating, ‘Ocean Surface Woodcut 1992’, a year in the making, is a magnificent example of this.

Typified by a restrained and subtle aesthetic, Celmins’ practice is self evidently skilful, labour intensive, and highly accomplished but great art does not reward merely through impressive commitment and technique.

For Celmins the work is about looking, intense looking. Resist the urge to seek or project meaning, engage with that intensity of looking and this remarkable work has the capacity to synthesize something of what it is to be here. As her friend and fellow artist Robert Gober quotes in conversation with Celmins, ‘Art is the thing that makes life more interesting than art’. (Vija Celmins, Phaidon, 2004 p.26). What better position from which to appreciate this beautiful and enigmatic exhibition?

* Celmins quoted from the 'In Conversation' event, April 23rd 2014, Taigh Cearsabhagh Museum & Art Centre

© Sophie Morrish   April 2014.


Medium: Woodcut on paper                                                                                                                                 Dimensions: Image: 224 x 304 mm frame: 530 x 430 x 37 mm                                                                               Collection: Tate / National Galleries of Scotland                                                                                                        Acquisition: Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008