Research Point: Project 2.2: Vija Celmins

Artist’s Background

Vija Celmins is a Latvian-American artist, born in 1944 and based in New York City.

Celmin’s main love is the use of pencils for drawing wonders found in nature, such as webs, starry skies, the ocean, rocks and clouds, however, she does create work in other ways using other methods.

Celmin’s work has been shown in over 40 exhibits since 1965 and she is rather well renowned in the art world.

Most of Celmin’s pieces are monochromatic as she works almost exclusively in grey. She takes several years to complete her pieces as she is practically obsessive with the accuracy of details within. Whilst she does not see her work as ‘copying’ which she feels implies something ‘fast’, she sees it that she is ‘redescribing’ what she sees and, whilst immaculate to the viewer, she feels there are inaccuracies within each piece which separates it from the original.

Vija Celmin believes her work shows her attention span and thoroughness in remembering minute details. Regardless of the amount of effort and work she puts in, Celmins does not care so much for people stopping and considering her work, providing her with the glory of appreciation, but instead likes the potential that people may walk past obliviously. If they do consider what they saw in her work later, that is good enough for her. Celmins appears to enjoy the solitude of the process of creating her work as opposed to the glory of public appreciation and the spotlight being aimed in her direction. This rather reminds me of Redon’s Two Trees and how someone may simply walk past without seeing the ‘hidden entrance’.

Personally, I find Celmins’ work fascinating, solitary, surreal and sinister. I also find the fact we have been asked to consider this artist’s work somewhat peculiar. My tutor commented regarding my excess space within my piece, which I agreed with, however, this artist’s whole piece appears to be excessive space? There appears to be no one main focal point within her pieces. Whilst I appreciate Celmins’ semi-abstraction within her work and the lack of actual objects, I find the effort, time and energy used within the pieces far too tiresome for my own work. I can appreciate the peaceful state one would enter when creating something such as those shown in this research and perhaps it is something I should try to consider when creating my own pieces; humility and patience. I consider this research very educational in regard to the tonal ranges involved. This is something I can try to learn from in my future works.

I also really like how Celmins pictures her work’s subject matter to be in a remote place only she is aware exists at that specific moment as this is something I would really value in my work myself. I can also fully appreciate her need for solitude and a peaceful working environment, as this is how I feel when working also.

List of Illustrations

Fig. 1. Celmins, V (1975) Sky [lithograph on paper] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/celmins-sky-p78334 (Accessed on 22 May 2019)

Fig. 2. Celmins, V (1969) Untitled (Big Sea #1) [Graphite on acrylic ground on paper] At: (Accessed on 22 May 2019)

Fig. 3. Celmins, V (1968) Clouds [Graphite on paper] At: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2019/01/23/nature-redescribed-the-work-of-vija-celmins/ (Accessed on 22 May 2019)

Bibliography

Centre for Religious Humanism. (Unknown) ‘Active Sight: Vija Celmins and Jackson Pollock from Pictorialism to Perception’ [Online] At: https://imagejournal.org/article/active-sight/ (Accessed on 22 May 2019)

Tate. (Unknown) ‘Vija Celmins’ [Online] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/vija-celmins-2731 (Accessed on 22 May 2019)

Tate. (Unknown) ‘Vija Celmins, Sky, 1975’ [Online] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/celmins-sky-p78334 (Accessed 22 May 2019)

The Paris Review. (23 January 2019) ‘Nature Redescribed: The Work of Vija Celmins’ [Online] At: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2019/01/23/nature-redescribed-the-work-of-vija-celmins/ (Accessed on 22 May 2019)

Vija Celmins / Desert, Sea and Stars (2011) [user-generated content online] Created by: Institut für Kunstdokumentation. At: https://vimeo.com/22299024 (Accessed on 11 June 2019)

Part Two: Project Three: Exercise Four: Monochrome

I began this exercise by carrying out some quick experiments in my sketchbook.  I settled on a picture of a red cabbage and some sweet potatoes I had found on the internet as I had struggled to find anything natural in my home which wasn’t alive – it just so happened that at the time I came to do this part of the course, and to prevent me from running out of time, the only option I had was to find an image online to work from. 

Red Cabbage Experiment

I really liked the red cabbage due to the positive and negative space it seemed to include in the veins of purples and whites, so I decided to experiment with the masking fluid again, using some wax crayons, a blue highlighter, black soft pastel and a blue soft pastel. Whilst the vegetable is actually purple in colour, I settled on blue due to the blue shade of the masking fluid. I then removed the masking fluid from several areas of the piece, but decided to leave a part of it without any additional colours, as this in itself represented the purple of the layers of cabbage. I actually really liked the wax crayons as the fluid was easier to remove with this media applied than with most others, however, the colours did blend somewhat, meaning the white was not as contrasting. I also really like the contrast between the highlighter and the white space created by the removal of the masking fluid. This, together with the ‘inverted’ masking fluid, are definitely the best results. I also really like the texture created by the masking fluid and soft pastel. This is definitely something I will consider using going forward.

Sweet Potatoes Experiment

I gave the page a bit of a wash with a skin-coloured ink, which I thought would fall into the ‘brown’ tonal range somewhat and carried out a brief experiment in oil pastels due to their boldness, texture yet ability for smoothness when blended, and also a bit of a collage in the style of the work of an artist I came across whilst carrying out some brief research on this topic (the details for whom can be found at the back of my sketchbook or by clicking here), showing the difference in tones of brown just in the different types of packaging around me. I added some soft pastels in a light yellow, a mustard colour and also in orange to the page to see if this worked at all. I was rather pleased to see it did, however, I do not think this page really meets the brief of ‘monochrome’ due to the variety of colours used.

Final Piece

For my final piece, I settled on an image of some potatoes in a bowl.  I chose this image as I really liked the contrast in the textures of the objects, yet how they naturally seemed to link as you would generally eat food from a bowl.  I decided once again to use a grid to assist me with the scaling of the image.  I know this is a little on the ‘cheating’ side, but I have found it much easier to scale my images when working from an image as opposed to a real-life object.  I would have much preferred to work from real-life objects, however, I have just not had the chance to do so for this part.

Fig. 1. Vassilly, P
Raw Potato on the Plate (unknown)

I decided to create this piece in a brown colour, trying to show the difference between the tone and textures using different dilutions of the media chosen, which I finally decided to do my initial base layers in ink and to adapt my method to suit each layer and each object accordingly. 

First couple of layers of ink for the potatoes, bowl and background

Firstly, I carried out an ink wash with only the lightest of ink added to the water.  Once this had dried, I then reduced the amount of water and added more ink to it, which I then applied to the darker areas of the piece to begin building up the layers, trying to leave the lightest parts with just a simple wash of colour.

Next, I reduced the amount of water some more and then added more ink to the mix to deepen the colour. I focussed this layer on the darker areas of the composition and tried to add some of the potatoes’ texture by using a dabbing technique. I also tried to add the smoothness of the bowl’s rim by using one fluid movement with the ink

Finally, I used undiluted ink and dabbed that in places to add the deepest of the darkest areas as well as to create the specs of earth and dirt found on potatoes. Whilst there is no background on the actual photograph of the potatoes, I decided to add one of a wooden surface as I thought the browns would work best with this surface. I looked at my wooden flooring for inspiration and used expressive mark-making to create the grain in the wood. I tried to add in a little shadow where I thought it would naturally fall and think I managed to pull this off successfully.

Final piece: Potatoes in a bowl

Reflection

Overall, I was rather overwhelmed by this exercise and spent a long time – maybe too long – trying to find subject matter I felt suited the brief best. I eventually came across the photograph of the potatoes from the internet and, whilst I would have preferred not to be working from photographs, I thought it was the best I could do in the limited time I had.

I was rather frustrated with myself during this section of the course and became somewhat subdued and disinterested. Once I had actually completed this part of the course, however, I was rather pleased with the result. I believed monochrome to be rather interesting beforehand, but when actually faced with it, found it rather challenging and overwhelming.

I think I have learned that I have to just work on these exercises quickly and without too much worry as to the end result, allowing the end result to form as I move through it.

Whilst my final piece does not 100% replicate the image used, I asked several family members if they could tell what it was meant to be and they all said potatoes in a bowl – even my three year old! Haha! So I thought this rather reassuring. I wasn’t so much bothered about the overall appearance as opposed to the application of the ink to get across the different textures and surface qualities of the piece which I think I managed rather well.

NB: Citation for images used in my sketchbook can be found by clicking here.

List of Illustrations

Fig. 1. Vassilly, P (unknown) Raw Potato on the Plate At:
https://www.colourbox.com/image/raw-potato-on-the-plate-image-8240568 (Accessed on 2 May 2019)