George Rickey 5 Kinetic Works

Does the impact of one’s life experience affect who we are and what we are to become? It certainly influenced the life of 20th century American kinetic sculptor, George Rickey (1907-2002).

The son of a mechanical engineer and grandson of a clockmaker, Rickey was born in South Bend, Indiana, raised in Scotland, studied in London and Paris, and returned to the states, where, during WWII, he designed machine gun turrets for bombers. In peacetime, in the early ‘50’s, he turned his attention from painting to his life-long commitment: designing light-weight, wind-activated, stainless steel sculpture.  Rickey proved to be a veritable sponge: soaking up childhood experiences and applying them to his sculptural oeuvre. His observation of the conical, counter-intuitive operation of window latches, found in his childhood South Bend, Indiana home, were applied to his emblematic work. His familiarity with ball bearings, sheet metal, riveting techniques, and balance, derived from his Army days, became the mechanical foundation for the machine-like precision and mesmerizing choreography his sculpture provides. Trained as a painter at a time when the romance and subjectivity of 19th century art gave way to the practical and mechanical as exemplified by Mondrian, Gabo, Smith and Calder, Rickey understood intrinsically that “the second half of the 20th century would belong to technology.”

His sculptures are technological masterpieces, yet they read like poetry in motion. The pieces are unconventional and lure the viewer with their play on light and homage to the landscape. Fueled by motion and gravity, they dance like blades of grass in the wind. Their often towering size, gracefulness and seemingly precarious and unpredictable rhythm, mesmerize the observer. By reducing his design to geometric essentials, Rickey accomplished his objective, stating that his sculpture “should move like machines and do absolutely nothing useful.” Elements move independently: pivoting, sweeping, leaping, spinning, soaring, with slow, autonomous precision, seeming to defy the laws of nature and the laws of gravity. Their hypnotic allure is defined through dramatic crisis, “wherein one moving part narrowly misses another.”

Art © Estate of George Rickey/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY