Vija Celmins (American, b.1938) is an American painter and sculptor. Celmins was born in Riga, Latvia, and she migrated to the United States at the age of 10, settling in Indiana with her family. In 1962, Celmins graduated with a BFA from the John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, and then went on to study at the University of California, Los Angeles, CA, where she received an MFA in 1965. She then got a position as an instructor with the California State College, Los Angeles, CA, from 1965 to 1966, before moving onto the University of California, Irvine, CA, for the same position in 1967. She taught at the latter school for the next five years.
Celmins gained international recognition very early in her career when, with an uncanny attention to detail and accuracy, she made renditions of natural scenes based on photographs lacking points of reference, depth of field, and horizons. Celmins has mastered the art of painting in different mediums, such as charcoal and oil, and several printmaking processes. Most of her earlier works are paintings of everyday objects like lamps, TVs, and black-and-white photographs. These paintings appear random, an effect that Celmins shares with Gerhard Richter (German, b.1932). Most of her recent works, however, are mostly intense and realistic drawings, although she still produces detailed paintings of the natural environment. Lately, her subjects have become very selective, focusing mostly on night skies, oceans, and deserts.
Examples of some of the most captivating works of Celmins include Moon Surface (Luna 9) No. 1 (1969) and To Fix the Image in Memory 9 (1977–1982). Celmins has received a number of awards, including an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award (1996), a Fellow Award in the Visual Arts from United States Artists (2009), and the Roswitha Haftmann Prize (2009). Celmins has been involved in a number of solo exhibitions including those held at David Stuart Galleries, Los Angeles, CA (1966), Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London, England (1999), and Celmins Prints, Herron School of Art, Indianapolis, IN (2003). Her group exhibitions include Seventy First American Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago, IL (1974), and Lifelike, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN (2012). Celmins now lives and works in New York, NY.