- Museum number
- Object: Ocean Surface Woodcut 1992
Sunlight on the ocean's surface. 1992
Woodcut on Whatman 1953 paper
- Production date
Height: 225 millimetres (block)
Height: 495 millimetres (sheet)
Width: 305 millimetres
Width: 394 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Edition of 50 plus 12 artist's proofs. Printed by Leslie Miller and published by The Grenfell Press, New York.
Walker describes this woodcut in a letter to Renee McKee of the McKee Gallery, New York dated 13/4/96, saying "The Vija Celmins woodcut arrived here safely, about a week ago. It is a remarkable image. I have found myself almost mesmerised by it. Viewed through a magnifying glass, it is even more extraordinary - the confidence of each tiny stroke and the subtle interplay of lights and shadings make it something to prize and continously return to. I am so pleased you showed me this artist's work at Christmas, and I am impatient to see her show here in the autumn [at the ICA]."
A further letter to David and Renee McKee dated 12/11/96 describes seeing Celmins' exhibition at the ICA: "I was totally seduced by her graphite images and intrigued by the early paintings of household objects... I was delighted to meet her in person: she was such a surprise - not at all the intense, introspective person I'd imagined, but very outgoing and chatty even. (At least to me, she was).
"My woodcut gives me renewed pleasure, now that I can place it in the oeuvre, so to speak".
Text from Coppel, Daunt and Tallman, 'The American Dream: pop to the present', London: Thames and Hudson in association with the British Museum, 2017, cat. no. 124:
The hypnotic, rhythmic heave of the ocean surface extending over a limitless expanse is conveyed by small, finely cut marks distributed across the woodblock. Celmins has said that she seeks to hold together in her work ‘stillness and movement, flatness and depth…in a delicate balance. I like to hide things behind looks, so that the work first looks like a photograph but when you get up close you see it’s something handmade and carved from wood: a kind of surprise.’ (‘A Delicate Balance: An Interview with Vija Celmins’, in Samantha Rippner, 'The Prints of Vija Celmins', New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002, pp. 41–42.) This woodcut, on which she spent a year ‘with my face inches away from [the] block, cutting this way and that’, is based on a photograph she had taken at Venice Beach, California, around 1969 and brought with her to New York. (‘Interview: Robert Gober in conversation with Vija Celmins’ in Lane Relyea, Robert Gober and Briony Fer, 'Vija Celmins', London: Phaidon, 2004, p. 33). Her first single-sheet print from woodblock, it was made in 1992 with the printer Leslie Miller of the Grenfell Press, New York, with whom she had first collaborated in a group book project on a bestiary two years before.
Text from 'Living with art: The Alexander Walker collection' (British Museum Press, 2020):
A view of sunlight on the surface of an ocean, the waves of which are finely delineated by tiny cut marks on the woodblock. Celmins spent a year on this print. It is derived from a photograph that she took at Venice Beach, California in around 1969. The image was transferred to the wooden block using a photo-emulsion, but Celmins also referred to the original photograph throughout the cutting process. Celmins began to make focused, closely observed images after she encountered a small still-life painting by Giorgio Morandi on a visit to New York aged twenty-one. She had previously produced large-scale gestural paintings but admired the stillness of Morandi’s work and the fact that his subjects ‘appeared both flat and dimensional’ (Donna De Salvo and Matthew Gale, 'Giorgio Morandi', London: Tate Publishing, 2001, p. 36). This woodcut was printed by Leslie Miller and published by Grenfell Press, New York.
Walker found himself ‘almost mesmerised’ by this print. After seeing Celmins’ exhibition at the ICA in November 1996, he wrote, ‘My woodcut gives me renewed pleasure, now that I can place it in the œvure, so to speak.’
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2004-2005 Jun-Jan, BM, Matisse to Freud: The Alexander Walker Bequest
2006 Oct-Dec, Lincoln, Usher Gallery, (Sth Bank Tour), Matisse to Freud
2007 Jan-Mar, Leicester, New Walk (Sth Bank Tour), Matisse to Freud
2007 Mar-May, Leeds, Harewood House, (Sth Bank Tour), Matisse to Freud
2007 Jul-Sep, Gateshead, Shipley AG, (Sth Bank Tour), Matisse to Freud
2017 9 Mar-18 Jun, London, BM, G30, The American Dream
2018 2 Jun-2 Sept, Paris, Fondation Custodia, The American Dream: pop to the present
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Purchased by Alexander Walker from the McKee Gallery, New York on 31/01/96.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number