Los Angeles

Vija Celmins

Mizuno Gallery

Vija Celmins’s graphite drawings are, in spite of the represented landscape space and/or distance, extraordinary in their power. One feels confronted, hit in the face with the images.

There are fourteen small drawings: six views of the moon, seven sections of ocean, one (late) sky which is comparatively negligible, and one large oceania. The moon drawings are taken from satellite photos and involve several variations: “interior” rectangles of magnification or differing views; renderings of glare a la current cinematography; straight down relief-map-like views and more orthodox elevations with prominent shadows. The only exception to darkish views of craters are two “light” drawings of a smoother, rilled topography. The ocean sections tend to be uniform from margin to margin, except for the pointed water ridges and crescent hollows getting smaller in the distance; in a couple, however, there are “occurrences” of white-caps. The one large drawing is a beautiful patch of water, with an almost frightening presence, easily handling its solitude in the rear gallery.

The questions raised by Celmin’s drawings are dialectic rather than classic, the alternative answers tending to reinforce themselves by opposition. Whether the intent of the drawings is near-perfect rendering or the making of a visual matrix per se seems moot upon looking; that the pictorialism could be interpreted as purposely exotic, romantic subject matter or as calibrated chunks of optical banality is likewise inconsequential upon apprehension. The only question which seems to call for an answer is whether the drawings have anything to do with Pop in the way they scale down portions of the biggest items in our inventory. (Yes.) What is important is that, as in no recent figurative work I can think of, one solves problems of subject matter by referring to the surface of the work, in the same way one solves problems of the surface by referring to the surface of the work; the dichotomy, peculiarly, breeds wholeness, the illusionary breadth breeds compactness, and the receding image breeds frontality.

Peter Plagens