Peter Voulkos (1924 - 2002)

Peter Voulkos ( USA) (January 29, 1924 – 2002) ,Panagiotis ( Peter) Voulkos, was an American artist of Greek descent. He is known for his Abstract Expressionist ceramic sculptures, which crossed the traditional divide between ceramic crafts and fine art.


Born as Panagiotis Harry Voulkopoulos, the third of five children to Greek immigrant parents in Bozeman, Montana. He first studied painting and ceramics at Montana State University in Bozeman. Earned an MFA degree from the California College of the Arts. He began his career producing functional dinnerware in Bozeman, Montana. His talent was quickly recognized and he soon began winning prizes.

In 1951 Peter Voulkos and Rudy Autio became the Archie Bray Foundation's first resident artists. Located in Helena, Montana (USA) the Archie Bray Foundation's role in America becoming the dominant force in ceramics worldwide during the second half of the 20th century can not be overstated. It was during his time there (Resident Director 1951-54) that the lineage of the work that was later in full bloom while working at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, California (USA) could be easily traced. And if the Bray (as its known in more intimate ceramic circles) was the incubator of such transgressive creations, Voulkos was arguably its first true star child. (Held, Peter et al. (2001) 'A Ceramic Continuum: Fifty Years of the Archie Bray Influence', University of Washington Press, Holter Museum of Art.)

In 1953, Voulkos was invited to teach a summer session ceramics course at Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1954, after founding the art ceramics department at the Otis College of Art and Design (then called the Los Angeles County Art Institute), his work rapidly became abstract and sculptural. He moved to the University of California, Berkeley, where he also founded the art ceramics department, and where he taught from 1959 until 1985. Among his students were many ceramic artists who became well known.

In 1979 he was introduced to the use of wood kilns by Peter Callas; much of his late work is wood-fired. Peter Voulkos loved working with an audience. He died of an apparent heart attack in February 16, 2002 after conducting a college ceramics workshop at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, demonstrating his skill to live audience. He was 78.


Voulkos' sculptures are famous for their visual weight, their freely-formed construction, and their aggressive and energetic decoration. He would vigorously tear, pound, and gouge the surfaces of his pieces. At some points in his career, he cast his sculptures in bronze; in other periods his ceramic works were glazed or painted, and he finished them with painted brushstrokes.


Voulkos' work is found in museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, in New York; Charles Cowles Gallery in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC; the Stedelijk Museums in Amsterdam and Eindhoven; the Tokyo Folk Art Museum and the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art in Japan; the National Gallery, in Melbourne, Australia; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London.