Peter Voulkos was a ceramic artist at the pinnacle of American abstract expressionism. Always trusting his intuition, he brought high energy and life to his pieces by fusing traditional divisions between craft and art. Voulkos was born January 29, 1924, in Bozeman, Montana, to Greek parents, Efrosine and Harry Voulkos. Clay was love at first sight for Voulkos. He received his BS in applied art in 1951 at Montana State College in Bozeman. He then went on to receive his MFA in 1952 at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.
After completing his education, he accepted a summer teaching position at Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina. Shortly after that summer, Voulkos began teaching at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, where he encouraged workshop students to embrace the provocative practices of modern art experimentation. Their work during this time would be deemed unconventional in relation to traditional ceramics, creating works informed by the motto “Dump and Death” rather than the typical “Lift and Life”. For Voulkos, art was about all aspects of life - including the flaws. His ceramic works with their cracks, fissures, and breaks showed the inevitability of process and his own unique perception of clay.
By 1958, Voulkos’ career took off with his stoneware pieces, made of both thrown and slab elements assembled and slip-welded to a central, cylindrical core covered with black iron slip and a thin coat of natural glaze. Not just objects, his artworks were also performative. He left the Los Angeles County Art Institute and accepted a faculty position at the University of California, Berkeley, where he stayed until retirement in 1985. Here he explored other mediums, such as monumental bronze sculpture, multi-color layered paper collages, monotypes, lithographs, and oil paintings.
Voulkos became an American Craft Council Fellow in 1975 and received the American Craft Council Gold Medal in 1986. He died February 16, 2002, in Bowling Green, Ohio.