Peter Voulkos (1924-2002)
Peter Voulkos is widely considered one of the most important and influential American ceramicists of the 20th century and is credited with bridging the divide between ceramic craft and fine art.
Born to Greek immigrant parents in 1924, Peter Voulkos discovered his love of ceramics while attending Bozeman State College in Montana. Voulkos graduated from Bozeman in 1951 then moved to the West Coast to attend the California College of Arts and Crafts where he earned his MFA.
Peter Voulkos returned to his native Montana where he began his career producing functional earthenware, primarily dinnerware, for sale in high-end stores. In 1952, Peter Voulkos was invited to teach for a summer at the experimental Black Mountain College. This tenure, though short-lived, proved fateful for the developing ceramicist.
Throughout the mid-1950’s, Voulkos worked to develop the powerful, primitive aesthetic that would become his trademark, creating works that favored raw emotive power over the utility and adornments of conventional ceramics. Peter Voulkos’s creations are best known for their visual weight, asymmetrical free-form construction and aggressively unconventional decorations. During the shaping of his pieces Voulkos would frequently tear, puncture or otherwise mare the surface of his work, creating a sense of visual spontaneity.
Works by Peter Voulkos tend to show naked clay, though during a period in the 1960’s he experimented with glazed and painted finishes. As the scope of Voulkos’s artistic expression grew, so too did the sheer scale of his pieces as he began creating larger and larger works. Some of the best and most sought after examples of Peter Voulkos’s work come from the tail end of his career when he began working in bronze casting to create pieces of monumental size.
Peter Voulkos stayed active in the arts, creating and teaching, until his death in 2002.
In the modern secondary art market, works by Peter Voulkos are highly desirable. While his early work, created before the dramatic shift in his aesthetics in the mid 1950’s, is often easier for most buyers to relate to, it is his later expressionist creations that command the highest prices. Works by Peter Voulkos are held by several major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.