Born in South Bend, Indiana, in 1907, Rickey was raised near Glasgow, Scotland. His father, a mechanical engineer, managed the Singer sewing machine company's branch in Great Britain. Rickey read modern history at Balliol College, Oxford, took classes in drawing at the Ruskin School, then studied painting in Paris at André Lhote's academy and at the Académie Moderne with Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant.
During the 1930s he painted first in a Cézannesque style, later in a Depression-era, social realist mode. He supported himself by teaching at Groton and at a series of colleges and universities.
In World War II Rickey served in the Army Air Corps, testing computing instruments used by bomber gunners. The work required both mechanical skill and understanding the effects of wind and gravity on ballistics, laying the foundation of his move from painting to kinetic sculpture.
Under the G.I. Bill, Rickey studied at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University and from 1948-1949 attended the Institute of Design in Chicago, an outpost of Bauhaus teaching. Intrigued by both the history of constructivist art and by the mobiles of Alexander Calder, he began creating kinetic sculptures. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Rickey developed systems of motion for his sculpture that responded to the slightest variation in air currents. Over the next three decades he developed sculpture with parts made of lines, planes, rotors, volumes, and churns, moving in paths that change from simple oscillation to conical gyrations, describing a variety of planes or volumes. Many works during this period have been large-scale public commissions for sites in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Rickey died at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota, on 17 July 2002 at the age of 95.
Johnson, Ken. "George Rickey, Sculptor Whose Works Moved, Dies at 95." The New York Times (21 July 2002): 21.