Patricia Volk is a determined, courageous woman, inclined to push forward when confronted with adversity. I like that. Patricia was passionate about art as a young person, but family circumstances limited her ability to pursue the arts for almost 20 years while she worked in a non-arts career. But her determination came through and she enrolled at art college as an older student. Once there, she was courageous enough to push her process and artistic vision despite being told “You can’t do it that way.” Turns out, you can do it that way.
I’ll let Patricia fill in some gaps in the story I’ve sketched out in our discussion below. But first, here’s a video from Patricia’s website that documents her creative process.
JTW: What prompted you to eventually make the jump and pursue your passion for art?
PV: When I was young it was financially impossible for me to go to art college. My father died when I was 9 and my mother was left supporting two children so it was out of the question. Also, the school that I went to, they were only interested in producing women to work in the factories or offices until they had children. I asked for tuition in art but was refused as they said they wouldn’t do it for one person. It was only after I had come to England and fell in with a group of people all of whom had gone to art school that the idea rekindled to try for it myself. I went to adult education classes and applied to Middlesex Poly for Foundation [i.e., a “foundation year” of university level courses]. In fact, I only applied because somebody I had met at a party, who I told of my dream to go to college, stuck the application form through my front door. Getting accepted was one of the happiest days of my life.
JTW: You originally created figurative sculpture, but at some point moved toward abstraction. Will you give me some sense of how your work has evolved over time?
PV: I was doing three dimensional design. In retrospect I should have done fine art sculpture. I liked working in clay as a medium but not in the ceramic tradition of glazes and so on.
Looking back at it I think figurative sculpture was a way of my expressing my interest in form and line in a bit of a conservative way before making the big leap to break away from representational work. I literally had a moment when I thought “I wonder if it would still be me if I stopped doing heads” and I found to my surprise and excitement they were just as much “me” if not more so – it was terribly liberating.
I did feel slightly trapped in doing heads and they had stopped speaking to me. I realised that pure form was more important and exhilarating to me and it opened my eyes to different artists that have been inspirational ever since.
JTW: I believe your earlier figurative work had references to historic Catholic and Celtic iconography as well as to some more modern artists such as Giacometti and Modigliani. Does your current work reference any earlier art traditions or inspirations?
PV: I think with the lives that we lead we are influenced by everything we see. Some of it we are not even aware of. I recently discovered a very strong affinity to the work of Eduardo Chillida. When I went to America and saw ceramics there, there wasn’t the emphasis on the traditional way of using the material in “pottery”. In the Guggenheim there were objects that were dug out from under the sea several centuries BC and they were rendered with paints. Everybody thinks classical sculptural tradition is in monochrome stone or white marble but in fact in ancient times these were highly coloured. I was knocked out by the work of Ken Price from the 1970s who used painted fired clay but was 100% a sculptor. I hate labels of any kind. Why should something be labelled craft because it is made in clay?
JTW: You’re very interested in simple magical elements — “a curve that might be so right that it takes your breath away, something that’s almost like a musical note in the air”. Is this an outgrowth of your move into abstraction? Or have you always driven toward simplifying elements in your art?
PV: Yes, I have definitely. Even with the heads and the figurative work I could almost imagine them being icons. When you look at early sculpture like the Egyptians, you can see the artist reducing the emotional impact to the essence and the minimum, and that is what I try to strive for. It’s also about having enough there but not too much so that the viewer can bring something to it.
JTW: What attracted you to ceramics as a sculpting material?
PV: The fact that I’m never really satisfied with anything I do ,and clay is so flexible, if you don’t like where it is going you can change it or recycle it. I can make what I want, drill it once it is fired, and construct. I usually have a few pieces on the go at various stages at any one time. Usually I start a piece with very little idea of how it is going to turn out and that is the enjoyment. I suppose the material suits my personality, which it to keep trying, but I never want to repeat myself. Every little journey has to be different.
JTW: I get a sense of inner determination and courage, really, in both pursuing art later in life and also evolving a style of ceramic sculpture that involves painting the fired ceramic piece rather than glaze it (a more typical approach). Can you tell me more about your internal motivators?
PV: My motivation is to do something that the viewer might think would be impossible with the material and pushing it to the limits. People in college used to say “You can’t do it that way.” And I was always like: “Why not?” So that’s my bloody mindedness which is part of the equation as well. I get fixated on working out problems of construction and losing myself in the making and engineering. I can always see what is wrong with something and move on to the next one in the hope that it will be perfect.
JTW: Do you have any new projects or interests you’ll explore on the horizon?
PV: All the time. Give me the space and I will fill it!
See more of Patricia’s work on her website.