FRAME|WORK: Untitled (Stack) by Peter Voulkos

Matter + Spirit: The Sculpture of Stephen De Staebler , currently on view at the de Young, presents a retrospective of the artist’s work. This week’s FRAME | WORK draws attention to De Staebler’s mentor, Peter Voulkos. A renowned sculptor and teacher, Voulkos was hugely influential in the world of ceramics and the Bay Area in particular. Untitled (Stack) is currently on view at the de Young in Gallery 5.

Untitled (Stack), 1980

Peter Voulkos (American, 1924–2002). Untitled (Stack), 1980. Stoneware. Gift of Dorothy and George Saxe to the Fine Arts Museums Foundation. 2002.148.48

Peter Voulkos was perhaps the leading ceramicists of his generation. Known for his daring ceramic sculptures, Voulkos’s art challenged both the physical and intellectual boundaries of sculpture. Recognized early on in his career, Voulkos founded not one, but two of the country’s pre-eminent ceramic arts departments at the Otis College of Art and Design (then called the Los Angeles County Art Institute) and our very own University of California, Berkeley.

Emphasizing process, performance and expression, Voulkos produced unprecedented large-scale, glazed and painted ceramic works that blurred the lines between painting, sculpture and poetry. As a teacher, Voulkos provided an equally free-form environment in which students were afforded the creative space to experiment with a never-ending supply of clay. Voulkos’s “potshop,” as the Berkeley ceramic studio came to be known, proved fertile ground for the Bay Area’s most significant ceramic artists, chief among them Stephen De Staebler.

Untitled (Stack) reflects Voulkos’s interest in projecting painterly concerns into three dimensions. The painterly quality of this stack’s surface reveals a subtle tension created by the protruding ridges that gird each of the stacked cylinders, suggesting that the clay has been stretched over an internal structural support. Treating this stack like a three-dimensional canvas, Voulkos has animated its surface with seemingly random gestural marks, indicative of his adherence to the tenets of Abstract Expressionism.

Stop by Gallery 5 to view Untitled (Stack), then head over to Matter + Spirit: The Sculpture of Stephen De Staebler, on display through April 22, to gain a deeper understanding of the influence of Peter Voulkos.