Vija Celmins renders limitless spaces with meticulous accuracy, often spending months on a single piece to capture the inscrutable details of chosen landscapes with her delicate graphite strokes. Influenced by and fascinated with the environment around her, Celmins' mastery of detail attests to a drive to come to terms with the mysteries of the universe. Having been in the same private collection for the past forty years, this unique drawing conveys the essence of Celmins' fascinations, its intricate pencil work capturing the undulations of the sea with meticulous accuracy and devotional effort.
Celmins created Sea Drawing with Whale as part of her artistic explorations of the sea, inspired by the flatness of photography as well as its black and white parameters. In the present work, Celmins fills her paper to its outmost edges so that the image expands out of the frame and into the space of the viewer. Sea Drawing with Whale is a rare example of an integration of the figure into Celmins' typically empty oceanic vistas. Here she gives us a brief glimpse of a whale breaching the sea's surface, drawing in its breaths before plunging into the deep, returning the ocean's surface to a calm, addled only by the movement of the wind. The solitude that sometimes inheres in Celmins' renderings of infinite landscapes is here replaced by a glimpse into the earth's hidden wonders.
Born in Latvia, Celmins' early childhood was shaped by the chaos of World War II. She has spoken of her time creating art as a release from the violence and tensions of her youth: "But later, in the studio, I think I relieved all these things, the burning houses, the aeroplanes, the Latvian school in Germany, my eraser, my little pencils" (V. Celmins, quoted in L. Relyea, Vija Celmins, New York, 2004, p. 15). Armed with her palette of blacks and grays, Celmins confronted the turmoil of her youth, diffusing the frenetic memories in her beautiful and meditative recreations of the world around her.
During the creation of Sea Drawing with Whale, Celmins was living and working in Southern California. When looking at her work, one understands the deep emotional attachment she felt for her adopted home. Celmins draws what fascinates her, communing with her world through her exquisitely detailed renderings of the ephemeral.