(1924-2002, USA) Gash, 1978 Stoneware; ht. 48, dia. 16 in.
Gash (1978) is the most important Peter Voulkos to come onto the auction market in over a decade. It has been shown in two important exhibitions: A Century of Ceramics in the United States 1978-1978 and Voulkos's finest survey exhibition, Peter Voulkos Retrospective, organized by the Sezon Museum, in Tokyo. It belongs in the top canon of the artist's pre-woodfire works, from his 1957 Rocking Pot to the best works from his stark "black" exhibition of 1969. This an easy piece to write about. Ever since I chose it in 1978, when together with Margie Hughto I curated the "Century" exhibition, I have believed this to be one of Voulkos's finest works. It has remained etched in memory and happily has re-entered my life from time to time.
Beginning with its forceful title, this piece is about the innate power of the stack pot. It has four distinct volumes. The first three, which are tightly thrown, thick-walled and unlike some stacks barely diminish in width as they rise, give the vessel a solid, stoic stance. A long thick neck rises from the center of this totem, an assertive column that does not narrow at the top, holding on to its power to the end. The middle of the neck has a beautiful moment when the wall pulls inward then swells out, voluptuously and sensually, pushing the eye upward to the climax of the rim. This is Voulkos' throwing at its most seductive.
The surface is no less compelling. Vertical and horizontal lines with their interstices rubbed with manganese oxide create an almost geometric framework for this organic jar. Some lines end with a piece of porcelain that has been pushed through the clay, a punctuation point. Vying for attention is the deep cut that circles the bottom of the neck and then soars upward visually dissecting it in half. Meandering through the pot, almost a form of automatic drawing, are more free-form cuts where the artist seems to be listening to the clay, letting it direct his knife. But it is the cut in the third tier that gives this stack pot its title, Gash, cut all the way through, removed and then replaced into the vessel.
The pot has been gas-fired and glazed with a commercial glaze meant to imitate woodfire. Mystique has been attached to the latter work with its romantic Japanese associations, but the gas-fired pots have always been favorites of mine partly because of the artificiality of their effect. Also the pale color, from wheat to amber and light olive, suffuses the pot in light, accenting every moment of touch, the undulating throwing rings, the pummeled surfaces, the ripping and tearing, the thumb impressions where the clay has been smoothed and of course the knife cuts and holes.
This makes Gash as much a record of a performance as it is a majestic sculptural presence. It stands with the self-importance of a Greek classical caryatid, not the artist's goal - indeed he tried to suppress figurative associations - but, as is often the case with pots, the anthropomorphism remains insistent. This pot, a record of a loving and transforming assault on shape and surface is, in short, a masterpiece.
Exhibited:A Century of Ceramics in the United States 1878 to 1978. Everson Art Museum (Illustrated in the accompanying book, p.258).
Reference: Peter Voulkos Retrospective, Sezon Museum of Art, Tokyo; and the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, 1995. Work illustrated in the catalog on page 95.