About The Artist
An American artist of Greek decent, pioneering abstract expressionist ceramicist Peter Voulkos (1924-2002) almost single-handedly altered the course of American ceramics from the 1950s onwards. Often dubbed the founder of the American Craft-to-Art movement, Voulkos challenged the traditional assumption that ceramics served a purely utilitarian end, as opposed to "high art" and its devotion to pure form. Voulkos rejected traditional restraints placed on the ceramic arts at the level of technique, function, and form by taking an innovative approach to clay as a medium in its own right, capable of producing deeply gestural, high-form, large-scale sculpture. "I was terribly impressed with Jackson Pollock and with the mythical aspect of breaking through the old traditions of art," Voulkos once related. "It was a tactile period even in painting and I felt my work in clay had its parallel in paintings."
Like many of his contemporaries, Voulkos drew inspiration from the experimental zeitgeist of the 1950s American subculture that embraced and intermingled influences as diverse as Asian philosophies, free-form jazz, and an iteration of Abstract Expressionism that turned tradition on its head. In more ways than one Voulkos might be said to have done for ceramics what the beat poets did for verse. Influenced by Japanese Raku pottery techniques, as well as the artworks of Franz Kline, Henry Matisse, and Pablo Picasso, and the American "action" school of art, Voulkos allowed the expressionistic nature of clay to come to life as he worked quickly and intuitively to stimulate new ideas. Like his contemporaries Yves Klein and Willem de Kooning, he embraced spontaneity as a force in his work. "I am not a conceptual artist, Voulkos once asserted. "I can’t just sit there and think of an idea. Most of it comes out of my hands ... I have always used whatever comes to hand, or into my head, that makes sense in my own work, that I can get some energy from." Taking an approach to clay that allowed for accident and chance, Voulkos exchanged artistic agency for a kind of collaboration with the material itself. Along with highly experimental artists such as Merce Cunningham, John Cage, and Jackson Pollock, Voulkos favored process over end product—or, put another way, finished works of art were valued inasmuch as they retained evidence of the dynamic, improvisational creative process behind them.
Voulkos’s work has been showcased in numerous solo exhibitions, including those mounted at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago. His work is represented in major collections across the United States, Europe, and Japan. Voulkos taught extensively throughout his long career. After completing his MFA in 1952 at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, Voulkos was invited to give instruction in ceramics in 1953 at the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he nurtured and influenced the work of several generations of artists. Voulkos also spent significant tenures teaching at the Otis Art Institute (then the Los Angeles County Art Institute) from 1954 through 1959, and at University of California, Berkeley, from 1959 until his retirement in 1985.Peter Voulkos quoted posthumously in Ceramics Monthly, April 2002.
Voulkos, Peter. UIMA. Accessed 7 August 2017.