Impulse and Action
Voulkos' Meditative Dance with Clay
Voulkos crafted the present work in the final decade of his career at the age of 72. Made just one year after his retrospective exhibition in Japan, it is aptly titled Shogun, which was the term used to designate the leader of the samurai. He began creating his massive wood-fired stacks—quite literally stacked cylinders of clay averaging over 200 pounds—in the early 1980s. They grew progressively more dynamic and brutalized over time, the artist gouging, piercing, hacking, clawing, and carving the leather-hard clay in his never-ending quest to explore and blur the barriers between cultures, aesthetics, art, and himself. The process of making them was so physical that Voulkos referred to it as a dance of sorts, a give and take between him, the clay, and the thoughts passing through his mind. Shogun is an exemplar of his stacks: to gaze at it is to be entranced by the seemingly endless variety of textures, voids, incisions, and rich, earthy colors. It vibrates with energy, the horizontal striations of glaze around the neck calling to mind a figure’s hair blowing in the wind, and mimics human presence with its subtle sideways lean and multiple unique profiles. What Voulkos achieved is nothing less than a profound and visceral exploration of his own artistic instincts and stream of consciousness.