Photo courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery
Born Panagiotis Harry Voulkos in Bozeman, Montana to Greek immigrant parents, Peter Voulkos (1924-2002) first studied painting and ceramics at Montana State University and later earned an MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. With beginnings in functional dinnerware, Voulkos began a radical transformation during his time at the Archie Bray Foundation from 1951-54 where he was one of the first resident artists and at the Otis College of Art and Design in 1954-59 where he founded the ceramic art department and taught. Influenced by his arts background and peers, he eliminated function completely as his work rapidly became abstract, large, free-formed, aggressive and sculptural. His energetic, rigorous, and explorative practice revolutionized ceramics and Voulkos is recognized as kickstarting the California clay movement of the 1950s; one of the first, some would say the first, to move pottery into the realm of contemporary art.
Photo courtesy of The Getty Center
He founded the ceramic art department at the University of California, Berkeley and taught there from 1959-1985, and after retirement continued to tour the country leading demonstrations until his death when he suffered a heart attack after conducting a workshop at Bowling Green State University, Ohio. Teaching was a significant component to Voulkos' practice and he mentored several generations of artists (click here to view a recent group exhibition at David Kordansky of contemporary artists directly influenced by Voulkos). He is the recipient of six honorary doctorate degrees and there is hardly a major museum in America without his work in its collection. To name a few, you can find his sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution. The best examples in Europe can be found at the Stedelijk Museums in Amsterdam and Eindhoven, and at the Victoria Albert Museum, London. While his largest following abroad is in Japan where there are Voulkos works at the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto and in the many prefectural ceramic museums.
A goliath of strength, peers and students remember Voulkos as well-centered, charismatic, witty, warm, and a presence that was larger than life. The following images are screenshots taken from videos I've been watching of his process. See a video here.