George Rickey

(1907 - 2002)

About The Artist

 “If great talents use movement, great art will move,” American sculptor George Rickey (1907-2002) once said, and it turns out his prediction was spot-on. Widely regarded as one of the enduring masters of kinetic art, Rickey’s dynamic steel works charged sculpture—a medium typically regarded in the artist’s day as static—with elements of both motion and time, dimensions traditionally reserved for painting. “Artists who use movement may behave like clowns or philosophers or school teachers or research scientists,” he maintained. “They may use movement to attract attention, to intensify old ideas, to transmute the visible world or to construct new architectonic forms. They may use time like a spectrum of colors, space like an open ocean, the clock in everybody's brain to give a sense of scale” in order to add “a limitless dimension to traditional art.”

Born in South Bend, Indiana, Rickey studied history at Oxford University in England and painting at the Académie Lhote and the Académie Moderne in Paris. In Paris Rickey studied under cubist painters Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant. In the early 1930s he moved back to the United States for a teaching position, and by 1933 had his first solo exhibition in New York. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, he taught at various universities and colleges across the nation and served during Word War II in the Army Corps of Engineers, where he developed a taste for the intricate mechanical construction techniques that underlay the aircraft weaponry he helped improve. While studying Bauhaus teaching methods at the Chicago Institute of Design, he “seriously began to consider the idea of bringing together geometric form and movement,” and in 1949 he made his first kinetic sculpture. 

Unlike many of his contemporaries, including the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, his peer in kinetic sculpture, Rickey did not rely on engines or internal motors to power and regulate the movement of his sculptures. Favoring an approach to motion that mirrored the chaos and randomness of the natural world, Rickey embraced chance and accident full on, relying on gravity and the whims of weather to largely animate his works. “Nature is rarely still,” he once explained. “All the environment is moving, at some pace or other, in some direction or other, under laws which are equally a manifestation of nature and a subject for art. The artist finds waiting for him, as subjects, not the trees, not the flowers, not the landscape, but the waving of branches and the trembling of stems, the piling up or scudding of clouds, the rising and setting and waxing and waning of heavenly bodies, the creeping of spilled water on the floor, the repertory of the sea—from ripple and wavelet to tide and torrent.” Lamenting that “the catalogue of the manifestations in nature that painting and sculpture have hitherto left out is endless,” and deeply inspired by Alexander Calder’s mobiles and the geometric shapes characteristic of Constructivism, Rickey set out to remedy this oversight in his own work. 

Although chance plays a prominent role in his work, Rickey also draws on principles of momentum and equilibrium in the construction of his kinetic sculptures so that they possess the mesmerizing quality of variation and repetition so evident in nature—a kind of “planned indeterminacy,” as he himself called it. For example, his works often incorporate counterweights and bearings, as well as compound pendulums to elongate and steer the smooth, slow trajectories of geometric forms, even as their exact courses remain largely unpredictable. "I had to wonder whether Calder had said it all,” he once mused. “When I found he had not, I had to choose among the many doors I then found open."

Rickey’s sculptures reside in many public spaces and museums throughout the world, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Hyogo Museum in Japan, and the Tate Gallery in London.


Johnson, Ken. “George Rickey, Sculptor Whose Works Moved, Dies at 95.” NYTimes. The New York Times, 21 July 2002. Web. 3 Sept. 2012. Rickey, George. "The Morphology of Movement: a Study in Kinetic Art," The Nature and Art of Motion, Gyorgy Kepes, ed. (NY: Brazier, 1965), 81-114, p.81.