Frank Lloyd’s blog

Art, architecture and the people that I know.

Peter Voulkos: On Improvisation

with 3 comments


When Peter Voulkos began to exhibit his large-scale works in the mid-1950s, he had already been recognized as a leading potter in the U.S.  Voulkos won prizes at the National Ceramic Exhibition, as well as a Gold Medal at the International Exposition of Ceramics in Cannes, France.  Yet, during this time he also absorbed many influences, from Flamenco to Jazz, and from Picasso to Abstract Expressionism.

An early article in Craft Horizons, published in October 1956, has many quotes from Peter. This is the period of time when Voulkos was breaking away from craft traditions, so he had a lot to say about his working method. One quote that has stayed with me is this:

“The minute you begin to understand what you’re doing it loses that searching quality. You have to forget about the little technical problems that don’t matter—you’ve overcome them long ago anyway. You finally reach a point where you’re no longer concerned with keeping this blob of clay centered on the wheel and up in the air. Your emotions take over and what happens just happens. Usually you don’t know it’s happened until after it’s done.”

Voulkos kept to this way of working throughout his life, freely improvising like a musician.  His straightforward, powerful and direct way of working was later characterized by Ken Price as “direct frontal onslaught”.  I recently found this 1984 photo, from Peter’s show at the Faith and Charity in Hope Gallery—a gallery owned and operated by Edward Kienholz and his wife Nancy. Kienholz not only admired Voulkos’ work, he owned a work from 1958.

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Written by Frank Lloyd

July 9, 2009 at 12:41 am

3 Responses

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  1. I worked with Peter from 1981 thru 1986. Do you have any more photo’s during this time frame. I would love to see them,and show my grand children. I’ve used my talents for high-end remodel for the last 25 years. Thanks, Robert Somers “Pete’s TA at Cal. Berkeley 1981 thru 1985. PS. I was a big shirtless afro,wearing, football body type.

    Robert Somers

    February 5, 2010 at 4:46 pm

  2. Peter was a true inspiration for me and I loved ever minute I got to work at Big Mama Firing his work and having conversations with him!

    Dustin Rankin

    February 28, 2012 at 5:28 am

  3. […] 5 Peter Voulkos: On Improvisation […]


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