Vija Celmins was born in Riga, Latvia in 1938. Celmins immigrated to the United States with her family when she was ten years old, settling in Indiana. Vija studied at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, from 1955 to 1962, making trips to New York City to see the work of the Abstract Expressionists. It was during the summer of 1961, that Celmins decided to become a painter, moved to California, in 1963 and received a Master's Degree in Fine Art from UCLA.
Her style was transformed in California; she rejected the ideas of the New York School of artists and began to focus on the simplicity of her subject. Her artwork developed out of her desire to communicate the artistic process, presenting elements of pop art as well as photo-realism.