Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The sculptured pot

Cortez, 1995
Peter Voulkos (1924-2002)
Image: http://www.voulkos.com/frameportfolio.html

Peter Voulkos' work came into my head the other day, one of his plates is a part of the new exhibition at the TMA. It is a gorgeous plate and if I could have found an image of it, you would probably be looking at it right now. In my search of another work to share, one of Voulkos' stacks caught my eye instead.

My first encounter with a Voulkos work was at Alfred when I was lucky enough to see Voulkos spontaneously make a stack from the ground up. He was visiting Alfred (no surprise, due to its prominence in the education of ceramics) and was doing a workshop demonstration (which he did all over the country). Watching Peter Voulkos work was incredible (note, he was in his mid 70s when I saw him) His works are improvisations, done in front of an audience. The rough hewn nature of the finished work doesn't exactly imply a gracefulness to its creation but for one privileged to see a work come together the strength, detail, attention and grace that Voulkos put forth was an experience.

I know that a sculpture like this is not amenable to all aesthetic tastes but I do think that with just a little care one can begin to see the beauty, craft and artistry in Cortez and Voulkos' extensive other work. His works are not only sculptural but painterly, their abstraction blurring boundaries between mediums. Watching Voulkos work is similar to seeing video of the action/gestural painters of the 1950s. Voulkos started out as a traditional potter and was soon influenced by the painters he met in New York. He eventually dropped any semblance to a traditional pot form, using both wheel thrown and slab elements to create spontaneous works. He ultimately returned to traditional forms but never to functional forms. While using familiar forms such as vases and plates Voulkos renders them nonfunctional through rough gesture.

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