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Viola Frey

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Viola Frey
20 c. Contemporary Painter, sculptor
American, (1933–2004)
Frey was born in 1933 and raised on a vineyard and farm in Lodi, California.  Her early surroundings and childhood memories of the farm play a major role in her art.

She received her B.F.A. from the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland in 1956, where she studied with the major American painter, Richard Diebenkorn. In 1958 she received her M.F.A. from Tulane University in New Orleans, where she studied under Katherine Choy, before moving to Portchester, New  York, to work for the Cooperative Clay Center.  She returned to California in 1960 and in 1964 she saw an exhibition of Robert Arneson's funk sculptures which was an important influence.  Frey built her first ceramic studio in 1965 and began to teach at the California College of Arts and Crafts. Frey’s early work was influenced by Japanese and Chinese ceramics, and during this time she made mostly pots. However gradually she turned to everyday objects as her subjects and her work became more figurative. By 1970 her work had grown in scale, and she began to sculpt figures that were greater than life size. She had an interest in over-glaze painting and developed surfaces that were raw and often encrusted with the reliefs of cast objects. Frey was fascinated with Claude Levi-Strauss’s idea that an artist was a "bricoleur", (literally meaning a junkman or handyman) and she called her pieces "bricolages".

By the 1980s, Frey's figures became larger.  She is the ceramic sculptor who reintroduced monumental figurative sculpture om contemporary ceramics.  In the 1980s she also produced some of the finest examples of brightly coloured figurative clay sculpture in the Neo Expressionist vein.  Virile men play a major role in Frey's art, but Frey states that her women possess the ultimate power.


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