Vija Celmins- Drawing and Painting

When people think of modern art, I think there’s this tendency to assume that it’s all pretentious nonsense that doesn’t require any skill. Installations featuring a single toilet set, or a painting with only a few strokes of color on it come to mind. But, Vija Celmins goes against this entirely with her incredibly detailed drawings and paintings. She opts to use photorealism in her pieces, and started during a time when abstract and conceptual art was the norm.

Born in Latvia in 1938, Celmins moved to the United States with her parents as a child. She would go on to study art in college, eventually receiving a masters degree in fine art. Her pieces quickly became noticed because they were so unusually realistic. Celmins often copied photographs, which she carried out very accurately, and in doing so, doesn’t really give them “a point of reference, horizon, or discernable depth of field.”


Big Sea II, 1969

This piece is pretty much indiscernible from a simple black-and-white photograph when looking at it. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even guess it was a drawing if I hadn’t known about it beforehand.

I couldn’t imagine doing this myself– putting that level of detail and focus into one image…. It’s no wonder that her drawings (which are sometimes pretty big, by the way) usually take months to finish.

Unsurprisingly, people really like Celmins’ art. She is, in fact, one of the “most expensive” female artists living today. Her pieces are very highly priced– a painting of the night’s sky, for example, sold in 2013 for over $2 million dollars at auction!


This is it– the illustrious, multi-million dollar painting. At 19.5 x 22.5 in, the buyer spent about $5,500 per square inch. This isn’t the best image of it, but it really is quite a cool, if not simple, painting.

I think the focus of Celmins’ work is pretty unique, in addition to her style. Her pieces are almost exclusively all centered on nature. From the night’s sky, to a spider web, to the ocean, Celmins captures a sort of serenity in her paintings. I enjoy looking at her pieces for the simplistic beauty she portrays, and appreciate the fact that they don’t have to require a ton of thought.


Spider Web, 2009. Print.

I would guess that the photograph Celmins based this on was old and fading in some spots. I think this gives a really neat effect on the image, because the quality makes it look like simply an old polaroid picture. It’s crazy to me how she is able to capture that look by just using just a pen, pencil, and paint.


3 thoughts on “Vija Celmins- Drawing and Painting

  1. afh5226 says:

    This is truly amazing. I love drawing and painting myself, and tend to draw from photographs, so I can really relate to her. But I am not even close to her skills, hyperrealism is my dream and obsession to someday achieve, so this article is amazing. I love her simplistic topics, and is amazing to see how much effort and dedication has gone to portray these amazing pieces. And I really can see the passion in the artwork is also very fascinating. Thank you for sharing; great post!

  2. Derek Bannister says:

    The amount of skill and practice that it would take to be able to draw the things that she draws so accurately is astounding to me. I Googled some of her other drawings just because I thought the ones in this post were so great, and they look incredibly real. In fact, if I saw them hanging up, I would probably think they were just pictures. I can totally see why people are willing to pay so much for her work.

  3. Gabby Giotto says:

    I’m always the most impressed with artists who do photorealistic work because it is so incredibly hard to pull off. Usually a lot of people just shrug it off and say it’s not that talented, but I’m glad that she’s getting a lot of recognition for her work.

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