Vija Celmins's work always brings me to a peaceful place. Her graphite drawings fool one to believe that they are photographs. The big sea, the moon's surface, and the desert floor are mesmerizing. A retrospective of her work opened at the Hammer Museum this weekend and was well worth the visit.
In a lecture that also took place this weekend, she spoke about a time when she was living too much inside her head. To clear that space, she backtracked to a more primitive way of creating art. She found herself drawing and painting objects in her Venice studio in black and white, nothing complicated, just the practice of hand eye coordination, in her words "dumb drawings." Through these now famous works, she discovers that despite them seeming like basic excercises, her nature, her personality always revealed itself bringing about the spiritual, not so photo-realistic quality of her work. She spoke of "recording" photographs, but as an individual who was actually recording the way she felt when she saw them.
What struck me most about her personality was this openess about her insecurities, the restrain in her work, her nervousness, bringing her to a level of the everyday person's struggle, making us understand that these struggles were the root of this work that we so deeply admire. After signing my book, she even flagged me down, kindly making sure to return my pen.