Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: Otis College and the Ceramic Revolution
The Los Angeles County Art Institute, which became the Otis College of Art and Design, was at the center of ceramic’s evolution as an artistic medium in America. In 1954 Peter Voulkos became head of its ceramics department. He brought with him energy, strength and a bold streak influenced by Abstract Expressionism–all new elements for the discipline.
The kilns at Otis College became the launching pad for the new ceramic artistry. Voulkos’s students and colleagues joined the signal artistic movements of the sixties and seventies. Paul Soldner (1921–2011), the first student in the nascent department, early on made staggeringly tall, monumental-sized pots, before creating sculpture of slabs in shapes reminiscent of jagged “angry” flowers using his own new version of raku, the 16th-century Japanese firing method.
At first with runic motifs, then in cruciform, John Mason fabricated large-scale totemic sculptures; in his late career his art was geometric and minimalist.
Henry Takemoto’s early works–often large, rugged, fired clay forms, were overlaid with patterns and organic shapes referencing traditional Asian ornamentation. Ken Price (1935–2012), a student for a brief time at Otis, later became arguably the most important sculptor of ceramics in the late 20th century. He later developed a personal visual vocabulary that shifted back and forth between geometric shapes and biomorphic forms with eye-piercing, vibrantly colored surfaces.
Price, Mason, Soldner, and another Otis College alumnus, Billy Al Bengston, were among the first artists shown at Ferus Gallery—the venue credited with establishing Los Angeles as a contemporary arts center. Bengston would forgo clay for paint. Yet he credits Voulkos with teaching him a rakish, assertive spirit and “how to handle . . . actual physicality. The strength, the tenacity.” The progenitors of key elements in Bengston’s later work are evident in his student ceramics: he placed blunt, forceful emblems in the center of his compositions, and created sharply-angled mug handles shaped like chevrons, a motif he would regularly employ in later works. Read more here.