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Born: 1938, Riga, Latvia
Lives and Works: New York City
Characteristically rendered in muted tones, blacks, and whites, Vija Celmins' paintings and drawings explore the farthest reaches of restraint and representation. Her art seeks to understand the limits of human experience through imagery that points toward uninhabitable, desolate, and unbound beauty--the ocean, the desert, and the night sky are subjects that appear repeatedly in her paintings. Yet it is photographs rather than actual natural expanses that form the direct basis for her work. The Night Sky paintings derive from details of flat pages from magazines--the horizonless starry depths have been imperfectly "scanned" and translated by Celmins onto the canvas in a way that implies a seductively held tension of surface and depth, detail and illusion. In a process the artist has compared to masonry or brickwork, she laboriously deposits and constructs, sands, or erases the monochromatic pigments "to fix the image in the memory." The Night Sky works openly invite myriad connotations from philosophical meditations on humanity's place in the cosmos to starry allusions to the "final frontier" in television and cinema.
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