Celmins’ recurrent motifs—oceans, deserts, night skies, spiderwebs, or antique writing slates, reflect the artist’s quiet, obsessive method. Her work is remarkable for its photographic fidelity and her working process, which involves progression from one corner to the other, in a way that recalls a digital scanner. The cold beauty of her dense yet ghostly images describe surfaces without clear figure-ground relationships—this somewhat troubled relationship with the image is apparent in the artist’s discussion of her work, which centers on the quality and density of the printed or marked surface, to the exclusion of what they depict. Strata, with its gridded surface and careful fidelity, is part of a body of work taken from astronomical photographs of stars, from the library at CalTech, or from magazines. Deep, black velvety tones of the dark night sky were achieved by abrading the printing plate. The grid of copper plates used to print the work creates structure, emphasizing the flatness of its surface, in dialogue with the three-dimensionality of the image.
Celmins was born in Latvia in 1938. Her family fled the Soviet occupation to arrive in Nazi Germany. She emigrated with her family to Indianapolis after World War II. Celmins’ work has been the subject of over 40 solo exhibitions since 1965, including retrospectives at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Today, the artist’s works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, among others. The artist currently lives and works in New York, NY.