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Peter Voulkos Portrait

Peter Voulkos

Bozeman, Montana 1924

Bowling Green, Ohio 2002

Active in:

  • Berkeley, California
  • Oakland, California

Photo Caption:
Copyright unknown

Luce Artist Quote

“I am not a conceptual artist. I can’t just sit there and think of an idea. Most of it comes out of my hands . . . I have always used whatever comes to hand, or into my head, that makes sense in my own work, that I can get some energy from.” Peter Voulkos quoted posthumously in Ceramics Monthly, April 2002


After serving in the U.S. Army Air Force from 1943 to 1946, he entered Montana State College, earning a B.S. degree in 1951 and, the following year, an M.F.A. degree at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. Returning to Montana in 1952, he established a pottery workshop in Helena. In 1953 while teaching a three-week summer course at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Voulkos met innovative figures in the arts such as Josef Albers, Robert Rauschenberg, and John Cage, which significantly influenced the direction of his work.

In 1954 Voulkos became chairman of the new ceramics department at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. His pottery shop soon became the mecca for artists in the area, launching the Los Angeles clay movement, with Voulkos as its leader. Despite the accolades for his work, Voulkos began to feel constrained by the traditional forms of pottery. His Black Mountain connections led to his meeting Franz Kline and other abstract expressionist artists in New York. Absorbing their ideas, he sought to use clay as an expressive, sculptural medium and began to execute many works on a monumental scale.

In 1959 Voulkos became professor of design and sculpture at the University of California at Berkeley.

Kenneth R. Trapp and Howard Risatti Skilled Work: American Craft in the Renwick Gallery (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998)

Additional Biographies

Luce Artist Biography

Born in Montana to Greek parents, Peter Voulkos worked his way through high school and then hitchhiked to Portland, Oregon. There he worked as an apprentice in an iron foundry until he was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Force. After the war, Voulkos studied painting and printing on the GI Bill. He earned his M.F.A. in ceramics at the California College of Arts and Crafts and returned to Montana to work. On a trip to New York in 1953, the artist met abstract expressionist painters Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. From this moment, Voulkos wanted his work to have the scale and power that their works had achieved. He pushed the limits of clay sculpture but turned to bronze so that he could create even larger works with forms that projected out into space. He found inspiration in Zen philosophy, Spanish guitar, the Egyptian pyramids, and in cocaine, which landed him in a rehabilitation center. Despite his run-ins with drugs and alcohol, Voulkos was widely respected in the postwar period for his expressive ceramic and cast metal sculptures.