Iconoclastic Ceramics

Peter Voulkos reinvented pottery

As summer and its accompanying high heat days approach what better way to cool off than by ducking into a museum or gallery to marvel at the latest treasure on display. Until August 20th,  The Renwick Gallery examines the career of Peter Voulkos (1924-2002) one of the most influential American ceramicists of the 20th century. 

Volulkos, celebrated for his radical approach to ceramics, transformed the craft in a single decade by reinventing the medium. He combined wheel throwing with slab building, combining traditional glazes with epoxy paint, figuration with abstraction and building large-scale ceramic structures with complex internal engineering. 

“Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years” examines his early career from 1953 to 1968, when he developed his avant-garde forms and techniques. The exhibition is on view at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum featuring 31 examples from his early work, most of which have not been exhibited on the East Coast for 40 years. Also included will be three of the artist's rarely seen works in oil on canvas, which help to demonstrate how Voulkos developed his ideas concurrently in pottery, painting and sculpture. 

Voulkos began his career as a traditional potter, establishing himself as one of the country’s leading post-war functional ceramicists. In 1955, he began to experiment with unconventional works inspired by numerous influences, including Abstract Expressionism, Japanese pottery and the artworks of Franz Kline and Pablo Picasso. He soon rejected the orthodoxy of technique, utility and form. Voulkos reimagined utilitarian form, breaking down their component parts, reconfiguring them into a new visual language, and using color and contrast to disrupt the visual integrity of his objects and built monumental sculptures. 

His works, sometimes created as part of live demonstrations, reflected an intense physicality as well as a sense of immediacy and improvisation. Voulkos explored other media and developed distinctive bodies of work in painting and bronze sculpture, but continually returned to pottery forms to demonstrate their endless potential for experimentation. 

For more information visit http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/archive/2017/voulkos/



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