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Peter Voulkos was born January 29, 1924, in Bozeman, Montana to Greek-born parents. He attended Montana State University in Bozeman on the GI Bill, working in the summers alongside Rudy Autio at a Helena brickyard that would emerge as the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in 1952. In the summer of 1953, Voulkos left Montana to teach at Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina. There he met New York School members including Willem de Kooning and Jack Tworkov. In 1954, he began teaching at Otis Art Institute. Among his students were Robert Arneson, Billy Al Bengston, Kenneth Price and Jun Kaneko.
In 1959 he was fired from the Otis Art Institute because of a counter-curriculum group he spearheaded, but he was immediately hired at The University of California at Berkeley. He remained on the faculty there for the next thirty years.
Voulkos was instrumental in elevating the medium of clay from the status of "craft" to art. Heavily influenced by Abstract Expressionism, his work embodies the spontaneity of action painting and synthesizes elements of painting, drawing, collage, and sculpture. Through this, traditional ceramic forms such as vessels are reinvented.
His work is in numerous permanent collections including the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Australian National Gallery, Canberra; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.