Artist Spotlight: George Rickey

May 5, 2019

Traces of George Rickey’s Kinetic Beginnings

Born from a long line of artists and engineers, George Rickey (1907–2002) seems to have been genetically predestined to pursue kinetic craftsmanship. Despite initially pursuing an education in painting, Rickey’s time serving in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II reignited his childhood passion for mechanical operations. After completing his service and returning to his studies, Rickey first began exploring three-dimensional renderings. While the artist is well-recognized for his monumental metal kinetic works, it’s his more intimate tabletop sculptures and choice applications of color that trace Rickey’s creative origins.

George Rickey, 2 Red Lines, 1991
May 19, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

As a young boy, Rickey and his family moved to a small town on the Scottish coast. It was here that Rickey was first mesmerized by “the waving of branches and the trembling of stems” induced by the environment’s blustering winds. Throughout his childhood, Rickey made countless trips to the shoreline and became increasingly fascinated with the ways in which the construction of a ship not only negotiates air currents, but makes their existence visible. It has been argued that these youthful musings sparked Rickey’s career-long quest to, as the artist put it, “use movement as an expressive means, as a painter might use color.”

Amongst the first works to come out of Rickey’s early experimentation with sculpture was a series of 11 brass and steel model ships produced in the early- to mid-1950s. Highly minimalistic and geometric, the works maintain all of the essential characteristics of model ships, but the boats’ varying mechanical features later informed Rickey’s unornamented kinetic structures and his fondness for tabletop sizing, as evidenced by Three Blades (1970).

George Rickey, Three Blades, 1970
May 19, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

While Rickey applied colors to his early kinetic works, by the 1970s he had largely omitted color as an important element of his sculptural practice. However, during the 1990s Rickey appeared to reconsider his conceptual roots. Soon after he produced his series of model ships, Rickey crafted works that tested Josef Albers’ seminal color theories on the relational exchanges between color and shape to simulate motion on a two-dimensional surface. Rickey took this framework and applied it to a three-dimensional structure by painting small color fields on geometric metal shapes and joining them to one another by wire. Through this exercise, Rickey married real and imagined motion in a single work. Though his later pieces, such as 2 Red Lines (1991), lack the same explicit theoretical references, they do subtly reveal Rickey’s reevaluation of the role that color plays in shaping a viewer’s perception of movement.

Kephart, Shannon. Passages of Light and Time: George Rickey’s Life in Motion. Snite Museum of Art, 2009.
Travato, Joseph. “Oral History Interview with George Rickey, 1965 July 17.” Smithsoniana Archives of American Art,


Lot 237
George Rickey
2 Red Lines
Painted metal and stainless steel
Incised signature and date to base; titled to underside
50″ x 4″ x 25″ (maximum overall dimensions); (127 x 10 x 64 cm)

Exhibited:  “George Rickey Recent Sculptures,” Inkfish Gallery, Denver, 1993

Estimate: $40,000–60,000
May 19, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 238
George Rickey
Three Blades
Stainless steel
#3 of 5
Incised signature, date, and edition to base
36.5″ x 3″ x 28″ (maximum overall dimensions); (93 x 8 x 71 cm)

Estimate: $30,000–50,000
May 19, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

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