An accomplished and highly innovative artist, Voulkos was also an influential educator, who taught or mentored a number of other artists included in First Glimpse, such as John Mason and Billy Al Bengston. Voulkos revolutionized the field of ceramics, abandoning utilitarian thrown pottery for expressionistic sculpture constructed from slabs of clay that record the artist’s gestural handiwork. Voulkos’s new approach followed his experience teaching a summer session course at the illustrious experimental art school Black Mountain College in 1953. In 1954, he founded the ceramics department at the Los Angeles County Art Institute (now the Otis College of Art and Design) and in 1959, moved to and founded the ceramics program at the University of California, Berkeley.
Voulkos called his monumental sculptures like Mimbres “stacks,” and indeed the shape is reminiscent of smokestacks, or even pottery kilns. The title Mimbres may refer to a Native American culture that flourished around 1100–1150 CE in what is now New Mexico and Arizona. Mimbres pottery were typically decorated with stylized renditions of flora and fauna and, when used in a funerary context, were pierced through with holes to allow the soul to pass through. Some of Voulkos’s earliest departures from functional dinnerware consisted of smaller-scale plates that borrow this practice of piercing. This large-scale sculpture translates such perforations into large gaps and rectangular cutouts, while the artist’s scattered, visible handprints further echo pre-Columbian American art and artifact.
Artist: Peter Voulkos
Medium: Stoneware with glaze
Dimension: 69 1/4 x 33 x 31 in.
Collection: The Buck Collection at the UCI Institute and Museum for California Art
Copyright: © Voulkos Family Trust, Pier Voulkos, Trustee, 9/29/18