Vija Celmins Latvia, b. 1938

The reason I think I do images that require so much time is that I feel the physical work itself lets some other thing that came through, letting something unconsciously seep through, some subtlety that my brain was not capable of figuring out…

-Vija Celmins


Celmins often features spider's webs, based on found photographs and not the direct observation of nature. The image is positioned centrally on a landscape-oriented paper and is contained by a neat border. Explaining the working method for her charcoal drawings such as this one and Night Sky #19 1998 (In the collection of the Tate), the artist has stated: ‘I work the sheet with my hand, putting on charcoal in layers, and then I start taking it off with my hand, with my breath, and then with various kinds of erasers.’ This can be understood as a kind of negative drawing – a process that moves backwards towards the original colour and surface of the paper.


The lines of the web are not crisply defined, appearing softly diffuse as they rise from the background, with charcoal dust clinging in places. There are brighter white areas of the web structure where there has been a more intensive use of the eraser to highlight the radiating strands of the web. The web stretches taut across the image surface, touching all four edges and creating strong diagonals across the picture plane. Numerous fine threads are visible to the eye, but the charcoal atmosphere suffuses every line with a muted, cloaked character.