Artists: On Peter Voulkos
Some of L.A.’s best artists were students when Peter Voulkos was active here in the late 1950s. I’ve often heard that the most powerful and charismatic figures in the 50s art scene were John Altoon and Voulkos. It’s amazing to consider just how influential he was:
“For anybody who doesn’t know who [Voulkos] was, he’s the hero of American ceramics. He’s the guy who essentially liberated the medium from the craft hierarchy that was controlling it up to that time. The way he taught was just to come into the studio, and he approached making work by a method I call “direct frontal onslaught.” We were a small group of very committed students. Some people thought they were pretty good before they got there, but when we saw him, he just blew our minds. This is a short talk, and so I can’t go too deeply into it, but he was so far ahead of us, it was just ridiculous.
Anyway, I learned to work from watching him.”
—from Ken Price’s lecture at the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas in October 2004
L.A. Conceptual artist John Baldessari recalls that Voulkos, who at the time was painting in Abstract Expressionist style as well as building massive abstract clay sculptures, seemed the very embodiment of the advanced New York art world. Baldessari, who was studying painting at the time, remembers, “I soon discovered that he was more of an inspiration and a goad than any of my painting instructors, who were relatively academic. He psychically gave me permission, because the teachers I had always seemed delimiting.”
—from “Breaking Ground Still Fires Him Up”, by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, L.A. Times, Nov. 14, 1999