200 words #15 / Peter Voulkos


Peter Voulkos, Red River, c. 1960, Glazed stoneware, slip, and epoxy paint, 37 x 14 7/8 x 13 3/4 in. (94 x 37.8 x 34cm), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation, Inc. Photography by © schoppleinstudio.com, courtesy of the Voulkos & Co. Catalogue Project

The fact that Red River was added to the Whitney Museum of American Art’s collection immediately after it was made in 1960 is a measure of its significance for ceramics and much 3-D work that was to follow. Peter Voulkos, already a celebrated ceramicist in a largely traditional manner, had by the early 1960s assimilated the best of Abstract Expressionism, and the energy of Black Mountain College.

Voulkos drew many lessons in material and form from painting – his own and the paintings of others – lessons which in turn found their most idiosyncratic expression in his ruptured and reformulated ceramics. It was in his roughhouse* clay handling, experimental glazes, and other previously untested techniques, that he innovated. In demonstrations to students (including Mary Heilmann and Ron Nagle) Voulkos handled his clay with confident familiarity, often dropping his creation with rehearsed carelessness, only to pick it up and refashion it as he had intended all along. This theatricality left a mark on his students, and taught them to accept the imperfect and the awkward in their work.

The fractured, and formless presence of works such as Red River, has helped artists since to cultivate the ever more important space between painting and sculpture.

*I have borrowed this wonderfully evocative word from the critic Rose Slivka on Voulkos’s synthesis of “Greek classical culture combined with French modernism and American muscle-toting, mud-slinging, refinement and roughhouse.”

Peter Voulkos – The Breakthrough Years @ Museum of Arts & Design New York


Antoni Tàpies: Revulsion and Desire @ Timothy Taylor / 16 February – 18 March 2017


Capgirat, 2005; Mixed media and collage on wood, 224.9 x 200 x 4 cm
© Comissió Tàpies / VEGAP, Courtesy Timothy Taylor

Photo: Sylvain Deleu / Image Courtesy Timothy Taylor

Watching footage of the Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies (1923–2012) at work, patrolling the limits of his large wooden panels laid flat on the studio floor before making occasional decisive lunges with brush or paint pot, we witness that very twentieth century model of an artist – one commanded by intuitive mark making, and as much led by their medium as leading it. The idea of the artist as an agent of aesthetic forces remains an intoxicating one today, but also one in which it is now harder for an artist to actively indulge. For painters working today, the marks they make and the placement of those marks on a surface are contingent on an acknowledgement that they may already have been enacted elsewhere with the same intent, and as a consequence, may never be viewed as unique. In short, a painter working today will often find themselves pausing to look over their shoulder. Continue reading “Antoni Tàpies: Revulsion and Desire @ Timothy Taylor / 16 February – 18 March 2017”

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