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PETER VOULKOS

by Andy Brumer

(Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica) It is reassuring and inspiring when a living legend delivers with reverberating and radiant life. Such is the case with Peter Voulkos’ current ceramic sculpture. The exhibition also includes one cast-bronze piece titled Sevillanas, along with a dozen monotypes and etchings completed this summer. Voulkos, now 75, single (double?) handedly brought ceramics from a utilitarian craft into the abstract and expressive cauldron of fine art. Several pieces in the show point to Voulkos' love of the rhythms asserted in Spanish Flamenco dance. As in jazz music, Flamenco invents itself vis-a-vis set conventional structures designed to welcome and accommodate individualized improvisation.

Voulkos was the avowed leader of the post-war American ceramics movement, the so-called ‘Revolution in Clay,’ during the 1950’s from Los Angeles via his teaching post at Otis Art Institute (then called Los Angeles County Art Institute). He helped liberate clay’s limitation as a functional medium into a vigorously expressive and heroic one. His work erupts from the soul with the tectonic and ridged tracings suggestive of the earth’s own growling and perpetual geological processes. Peter Voulkos, like his work, embodies a force of nature in and of himself.



"Chochmo," woodfired stone-
ware, 43"h x 24"dia, 1997.




"Untitled Plate,"
woodfired stoneware,
23 x 20 1/2 x 5 1/4", 1996.



"Untitled Plate,"
woodfired stoneware,
21 x 20 1/2 x 5", 1996.





"Untitled Plate,"
woodfired stoneware,
22 1/2 x 23 x 5 1/4", 1996.
Among the works here are four major pieces called stacks: large, mound-like, suggestive, figuratively-shaped vessels, with thick, rugged, and boldly assembled surfaces achieved by the long process (fourteen days to be exact) of wood-firing. The show also presents ten intuitively slashed, sliced, and gouged large plates, as well as husky vessel forms called ice buckets, and a few tender, graceful tea bowls that whisper with the ancient art of the Japanese ceremony. From the plates protrude feasts of desert-like landscapes, or the furrowed brow and features of the artist's own face.

Voulkos’ work dances the thin line between the suggestive vulnerability of ceramics itself and the muscular and sturdily built structures the clay becomes under the artist's transforming work. An organically informed energy drives the works' shapes, fired-hues and colors into a never-ending bouquet of surprises. Voulkos has placed his pieces on rotating Lazy Susans, so viewers can manually turn each piece around. Not only does this emphasize the work’s sculptural quality, it invites the gallery goers to ‘massage’ these works with their own hands, which, subtly, and gradually deepens their patinas and shades.

At this show one feels the transforming fire of both artistic creation and deeply-experienced human emotion. Voulkos works with the patience of an alchemist, coaxing the burning, vulnerable soul and speed of pure being out of quiet clay. Made at various sites around the country. . .from Anderson Ranch Art Center in Snowmass Village near Aspen, Colorado, to Bowling Green, Ohio. . .and with the assistance of master ceramic 'firerers' John Balistreri and Peter Callas, these works 'come home,' and under the roof of the Gallery and speak of life's journeying and often surreptitious turns and twists.