Peter Voulkos | Breaking Through: Mid Century Studio Pottery to Fine Art

Peter Voulkos | Breaking Through: Mid Century Studio Pottery to Fine Art

Peter Voulkos (1924-2002) is an artist whose innovative and groundbreaking techniques left a enduring mark on the world of ceramics and sculpture. Originally trained as a potter, Voulkos rejected the orthodoxy of mid century studio pottery technique, utility and form, instead pursuing ideas that were entirely new to the medium and positioned within the world of fine art. Voulkos combined traditional ceramic techniques like wheel throwing with slab-building, mixes traditional glazes with epoxy paint, and made large scale ceramic structures. In his hands, the vessel form was broken down into its basic part and reconfigured. His works, sometimes created as part of theatrical demonstrations, reflect an intense physicality as well as a sense of immediacy and improvisation. Defined as a West Coast Abstract Expressionist, Voulkos spent much of his career in California, however his influence was global.

Education and Early Teaching Career

After completing his service in the U.S. Army Air Force from 1943 to 1946, Voulkos embarked on an academic journey. He enrolled at Montana State College, where he diligently pursued his studies, ultimately earning a Bachelor of Science degree in 1951. The subsequent year proved to be pivotal in his educational path as he secured a Master of Fine Arts degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. Returning to Montana in 1952, he established a pottery workshop in Helena, where he could bring his creative visions to life. The turning point in his artistic evolution occurred in 1953 during a momentous three-week summer course he taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. It was here that Voulkos had the privilege of engaging with Josef Albers, Robert Rauschenberg, and John Cage. This encounter had a profound impact on the trajectory of his artistic journey, shaping the direction of his work in profound ways.

Founding Ceramics Studio at the Los Angeles County Art Institute

In 1954, Voulkos relocated to Los Angeles to direct the newly established ceramics department at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles (then the Los Angeles County Art Institute). His pottery shop quickly became a creative hub and gave rise to the Los Angeles clay movement, with Voulkos at its helm. Voulkos embarked on a mission to use clay as a means of expressive, sculptural artistry. His artistic vision grew larger in scale, resulting in the creation of numerous monumental works that challenged the boundaries of what could be achieved with clay as a medium.

Fearless and Bold Execution

Voulkos is known for his fearless approach to materials and techniques, embracing the concept of anti-craft and challenging the conventional methods of ceramic artistry. His monumental, rough-hewn sculptures, often marked by slashes and chaotic forms, defied the traditional ideals of symmetry and precision. Voulkos' legacy is not confined to his pioneering techniques but also to the way he challenged conventions and expanded the horizons of artistic expression. His sculptures, often characterized by their raw energy and dynamism, continue to captivate audiences and inspire contemporary artists.

Accolades and Exhibitions

Exhibited widely throughout the world, his early work won the 1955 Gold Medal at the International Exposition of Ceramics in Cannes, and the Rodin Prize in Sculpture from the Musee d’Arts Moderne in Paris in 1959. Voulkos’ one-person shows include those at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Museum of Modern Art, NY; the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, CA, the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City. His work is represented in collections throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Voulkos Artwork Offered in the Hughes California Riviera Auction

Hughes is thrilled to be offering for auction two excellent examples of Voulkos’ 1950s work in the upcoming California Riviera Auction. California Riviera Auctions feature art, furnishings, and design inspired by the creative energy and output found here in California. Voulkos is a superb example of the spirit of the California Riviera category. Contact us today to learn about selling your items with Hughes or about bidding in our upcoming auctions.



Peter Voulkos (1924-2002) Ceramic Sculpture, 1955 Blue Glaze Vase

Peter Voulkos (1924-2002) Ceramic Sculpture, Blue Glaze Footed Vase