George Rickey (1907-2002) was born in South Bend, Indiana. His father, an engineer, took a position in Helensburgh, Scotland, and moved the family to Europe in 1913. Living along the coast of Scotland exposed Rickey to sailing. He was fascinated by ships, and watched them pass daily. As a young adult, Rickey sailed his family’s yacht and became an expert sailor, learning how to gauge wind currents the laws of motion, two themes that are pivotal in his work.
In 1926, Rickey studied history at Balliol College in Oxford, England, and attended drawing and painting classes at the nearby Ruskin School of Drawing. A year later, he left for Paris to study art at the L’Academie L’Hote. Rickey returned to the United States in 1934 to accept a teaching position at Olivet College in Kalamazoo, Michigan; this would be the start of a 30 year career in academia, as Rickey taught at various universities throughout the United States and abroad.
Rickey started his art career as a painter, even winning a commission to paint a mural at the Selinsgrove, PA post office during the New Deal. However, his interest in math, geometry, and mechanics began to dominate his artistic process, especially after his time spent in the Army Air Corps during WWII, where he worked on projects studying the effects of wind and gravity on ballistics. After the war, Rickey turned his attention to sculpture full-time. Combining his knowledge of sailing, ballistics, and mathematics, Rickey used movement in his sculptures as a new form of expression, becoming a leader in the Kinetic Art Movement. Rickey simplified the forms in his work to best capture movement. His works are not mechanized, and rely on the wind to move. Rickey intended his sculptures to work within nature, but not to be overtaken by it.
L’s – One Up, One Down is an example of how Rickey conceived his work. In this 27 foot sculpture, the hollow L shapes are attached to a central blade at two different points. The L’s, which are counterweighted with lead, operate as a pendulum. Their movement is dictated by the wind, but the counterweights keep the shapes from losing control. At times, the L’s look as if they might collide, but Rickey was meticulous about timing and the distance between forms in his work. The burnished steel of the sculpture reflects the light, as the L’s move with grace and unpredictability.
The work was installed in 1982, under Rickey’s supervision, on a cold day in December. As an artist who was frequently commissioned for public art projects, Rickey believed that public art should not be plagued by “too private thoughts,” or rather esoteric. His intent was to delight and surprise the public with beautiful works that had the ability to move.
By: Rachel Klipa
George Rickey was an American painter, sculptor, and leader in the Kinetic Art Movement.