Peter Voulkos
The exhibition of recent stoneware vessels by Peter Voulkos at Frank Lloyd

Gallery featured the sort of work on which the artist established reputation in
the 1950s. The work was greeted with stunned amazement. However now it is too,
but it\'s amazement of a different order -- the kind that comes from being in the
presence of effortless artistic mastery. These astonishing vessels are truly amazing.

Every ceramic artist knows that what goes into a kiln looks very different from
what comes out, and although what comes out can be controlled to varying
degrees, it\'s never certain. Uncertainty feels actively courted in Voulkos\'
vessels, and this embrace of chance gives them a surprisingly contradictory
sense of ease. Critical to the emergence of a significant art scene in Los

Angeles in the second half of the 1950s, the 75-year-old artist has lived in

Northern California since 1959 and this was his only second solo show in an L.A
gallery in 30 years. "These days, L.A. is recognized as a center for the
production of contemporary art. But in the 1950s, the scene was slim -- few
galleries and fewer museums. Despite the obscurity, a handful of solitary and
determined artists broke ground here, stretching the inflexible definitions of
what constitutes painting, sculpture and other media. Among these avant-gardists
was Peter Voulkos." In 1954, Voulkos was hired as chairman of the fledgling
ceramics department at the L.A. County Art Institute, now Otis College of Art
and Design, and during the five years that followed, he led what came to be
known as the "Clay Revolution." Students like John Mason, Paul Soldner,

Ken Price and Billy Al Bengston, all of whom went on to become respected
artists, were among his foot soldiers in the battle to free clay from its
handicraft associations. By the late 1950s, Voulkos had established an
international reputation for his muscular fired-clay sculptures, which melded

Zen attitudes toward chance with the emotional fervor of Abstract Expressionist
painting. Some 20 works -- including five "Stacks" (4-foot-tall
sculptures) as well as giant slashed-and-gouged plates and works on paper --
recently went on view at the Frank Lloyd Gallery. This non single show is his
first at a Los Angeles gallery in 13 years, although a survey of his work was
seen at the Newport Harbor Art Museum (presently carries a different name) in

1995. Voulkos, 75, has lived in Oakland since 1959, "having left after a
fallout with the then-director of the Art Institute, Millard Sheets, who is best
known for mosaic murals on local bank facades." Although Voulkos has been
absent from L.A. for 40 years, he remains something of an icon for artists here.

Price, known for his candy-colored ovoid clay sculptures, puts it simply:
"In one way or another, he influenced everyone who makes art out of clay,
since he was the main force in liberating the material. He broke down all the
rules -- form follows function, truth in materials -- because he wanted to make
art that had something to do with his own time and place. He had virtuoso
technique, so he was able to do it fairly directly, and he worked in a really
forceful way. In the opinion of many artists he is the most important person in
clay of the 20th century, not for what he did himself, but for the ground that
he broke." In his interview with US art critics Voulkos said: "I never
intended on being revolutionary, there was a certain energy around L.A. at that
time, and I liked the whole milieu." "Wielding clay is magic," he says.

"The minute you touch it, it moves, so you\'ve got to move with it. It\'s like a
ritual. I always work standing up, so I can move my body around. I don\'t sit and
make dainty little things." As a child, Voulkos did not imagine a future as an
internationally influential artist. The third of five children born to Greek
immigrant parents in Bozeman, Mont., he could not afford a college education and
anticipated a career constructing floor molds for engine castings at a foundry
in Portland, Ore., where he went to work in 1942, after high school. But in

1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps and was stationed in the
central Pacific as an airplane armorer and gunner. After the war, the G.I. Bill
offered him a college education, so he studied painting at Montana State

College, now Montana State University, and took ceramics courses during his
junior year, graduating in 1951. Voulkos had a natural aptitude for clay and
soon was winning awards, including