Sculpting a New Tradition
An Early Masterpiece by Peter Voulkos
This work originates from a pivotal period early in Peter Voulkos’ career. In 1953, he taught at Black Mountain College where he met Josef Albers, Robert Rauschenberg and other abstract expressionists, and the following year he returned to Los Angeles, California where he took a position as chairman of the new ceramics department at the Otis College of Art and Design. Here, Voulkos’ practice evolved as he developed a rough, earthy style and a towering presence that was not constricted by traditional concepts of form and construction.
Voulkos introduced a whole new energy to the medium and was experimenting through improvisation, deconstruction, reconstruction, and scale. In 1957, the year the present work was made, he and John Mason started a studio with the largest non-commercial kiln on the west coast and a goal of creating monumental sculptures in clay. Over the next few years Voulkos created significant large-scale, sculptural works that further elevated pottery from craft to art. Ken Price, who studied under Voulkos during this time, characterized Voulkos’ methods a “direct frontal onslaught” and indeed Voulkos’ influence extended beyond his students and started the California Clay movement.
Massive in scale, the present lot stands over 5 feet in height and the carefully stacked form features a dark, monochromatic palette that further accentuates volume. It is one of only a few known monumental works from the first year with his new studio and kiln. Leonard Edmondson acquired the work directly from Voulkos at his Glendale studio. The two artists met while teaching at Otis and were known to play cards along with John Mason, Mack McLain and others at Edmondson’s house in Pasadena.
Fresh to the market, this work stands as an important marker of a seminal period in Voulkos’s production and is among the most coveted artworks in his influential oeuvre.