VIJA CELMINS "WHALE" ENGRAVING, 1990
Born in Riga, Latvia in 1938, Vija Celmins is one of the most accomplished living American artists. Her impressive and dynamic oeuvre resists merging with any art-historical "ism" or school.
Celmins established her practice in the 1960s in Los Angeles and was one of few women who were recognized in the LA art scene during that time. And while she is sometimes associated with LA artists, such as Ed Ruscha, she has been based in New York City for several decades.
Throughout Celmins' work, we see a patient and obsessive exploration of motifs from nature; luminous oceans, textured deserts, dense clouds, lunar landscapes, spiderwebs and skies full of stars.
"Whale" is an elegant example of Celmins’ interest in nature, especially waterscapes. Celmins presents images of nature as a way of understanding human consciousness in relation to lived experiences. This engraving shows Celmins’ frequent removal of horizon or centre for the image.
"Whale" was created for the book "A Bestiary" by Bradford Morrow (b. 1951). In Morrow's fable, a splash of the whale's tail leads to the creation of Earth. Celmin's immortalizes this fantastical fictional moment with "Whale".
Since the ancient world, bestiaries have been used to catalog and describe collective knowledge on creatures and other natural elements (i.e. rocks). Illustrated bestiaries grew in popularity during the Middle Ages, often pairing the animal with a moral lesson. This reflected the allegorical Christian belief that each living thing had its own special meaning, and reiterated the symbolic language of animals used in Western Christian art.
Bradford Morrow (b. 1951) is a decorated American novelist and poet and recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction. Morrow began writing his own bestiary featuring real and imagined creatures (like unicorns) alongside often-overlooked aspects of nature, like plankton. Morrow collaborated with 18 contemporary American artists who created artworks based on the animals in his manuscript.
Participating artists included Joel Shapiro, Erich Fischl, Kiki Smith and Richard Tuttle. Working at Grenfell Press, the artists used traditional printmaking including wood cuts, linoleum cuts, engravings and pochoir. The result of this collaboration is gorgeously written prose accompanied by stunning works of art, as diverse in their style and beauty as the animals themselves.
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(From the book Bestiary by Bradford Morrow)
Wood engraving on Somerset wove paper
Signed and numbered by the artist on the colophon page
From an edition of 100
Publisher: The Grenfell Press, New York
"Whale" in the book Bestiary by Bradford Morrow (New York: Grenfell Press, 1990)
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