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In conversation with sculptor Patricia Volk…

Image of Patricia Volk artist

We first met recent RWA Academician and long-standing Fellow of the Royal Society of Sculptors, Patricia Volk during Somerset Art Weeks back in 2015 when she showed us images of her work at our exhibition.  Following a swift and successful visit to her studio on the Somerset/Wiltshire borders, we added her work to our portfolio and have been working with her ever since.

At a very simple level, Patricia’s playful, brightly coloured sculptures cannot fail to raise your spirits, even on the darkest of days and, when you get to know her, it’s clear that on this level the work imbues the very essence of her personality.  For not only is Patricia’s work visually and emotionally uplifting, but she is also one of the most supportive artists we know, using social media to offer words of encouragement to literally hundreds of artists as they work, like her, alone in their studios.  And, it has to be said that we’ve also been on the receiving end of her encouragement, her kind words often arriving at the end of a particularly long art fair when we’re fit to drop and in need of emotional sustenance. 

In our second post in our new series of weekly featured artist interviews, we talk to Patricia, looking beyond form and colour alone to try and gain a deeper understanding of this exceptional artist’s work.

Patricia Volk sculpture for ITV
Patricia Volk’s sculpture for ITV

CF: Patricia, last year you were one of 52 artists commissioned by ITV to take part in the ITV Creates project, tell us more about this initiative?

PV: Yes. I was commissioned to create a piece of artwork to be used as the on-screen “ident” of ITV. It was a terrific experience seeing my sculpture filmed by a professional team, and mine appeared on air for a week in January 2019. The brief to artists had been very loose; to interpret the ITV logo in your own unique style. The way I approached it was to deconstruct the logo into its constituent shapes and to build them in 3D.

I also wanted to convey in some way on the exterior what the “inner life” of ITV was – the marks representing all the creativity going on that the whole organization is there for, what goes on under the surface, the buzzing of all the exciting thoughts under the skull. This led me, after the project was over, down the path of exploring similar “knots” of individual ceramic pieces, the amalgamation of which, puzzle-like, would change dramatically as they are viewed through 360 degrees.

CF: It was a great campaign, so, is this where you got the idea for the new work you’ve been creating over the past 12 months or so, where you’ve introduced new shapes and intertwining sections?

PV: Yes, I had moved into abstract forms for some time, using separate components to construct my pieces. I was making shapes in the laid out clay then figuring out how they came together as interesting clusters or arrangements. I was interested in the randomness of making components and not having any idea of how they would go together. It was not only exciting to work that way, but it also gave me the confidence to know that I didn’t have to have a preconceived idea of a piece when I started it, at all – yet it could still be “me” at the end of the process. 

Off White ceramic sculpture 48 x 42 x42cm
Cog (Shell), Painted Fired Clay Sculpture, Height 48cm x Width 42cm x Depth 42cm

CF: Why did you start to use the cogs, if that is the right word?

PV: As with many of my pieces, for some time now, it is all about human relationships and how we come together. The contradictions, such as strong versus fragile, grounded versus light, peace versus friction. “Embrace” (which could be said to be the embrace between the artist and her material) can be read as either stifling or comforting, love or combat, safety or danger – the red signifying “stop” but also the sign of passion, and the heart.

Embrace red ceramic sculpture
Embrace (Red), Painted Fired Clay Sculpture, Height 34cm x Width 60cm x Depth 42cm

PV: With my new work, some people have said that the serrated-edged forms look like the kind of endless stairs in an etching by Escher, or the steps going nowhere in one of Piranesi’s prisons. Not things I was aware of myself.

With this series now, I want even stronger differences in the forms to enhance the overall effect. Some are jagged, almost like the teeth of a saw, but also the cogs of a machine where, if it didn’t have teeth, the machine wouldn’t work. So it’s an emblem of support, not antagonism, like politics, in a way. The elements can be seen as helpful in joining us together or a tension pulling is apart or hurting us. It could be seen as wrestling for supremacy, or a loving embrace.

One artist recently told me they liked “the combination and contrasting, cradling, seductive and spiky forms” which they said “feels very human” – that’s what it’s all about really, I hope.

Teal ceramic sculpture
Cog (Teal), Painted Fired Clay Sculpture, Height 40cm Width 50cm Depth 50cm

CF: So, how are they made? Are they hollow?

PV: Yes. With these pieces the process of making necessitated me using clay in a different way, using a slab roller and building the construction from simple individual forms. The elements were fired separately, constructed – tried in a succession of different arrangements, photographing them repeatedly as I go along, as I always do, until I reach the arrangement I am happy with – then painted. (As the word  “ceramics” can be disadvantageous in the art world, I prefer the term used by Ken Price and other American sculptors: “painted fired clay”.)

Work in progress Patricia Volk
Work in progress in Patricia Volk's studio
Work in progress in Patricia Volk's studio
Dark grey ceramic sculpture by Patricia Volk
Embrace, Painted Fired Clay Sculpture, Height 40cm x Width 52cm x Depth 50cm

CF: How do you decide what colour (or colours) each piece should be?

PV: It’s purely instinctive. I line them up and, it may sound daft, but they tell me what they want to be. While I’m working I’m constantly looking at colour combinations all the time, and keeping a record or photographing those that attract me, whether that be in real life on my phone, tear sheets out of a magazine article, or seeing a piece of artwork in a gallery.

Choosing coloiurs Patrica Volk

Sometimes I’ll literally have a pot in my hand, walk along my paints and mix a colour until I find the right colour for that piece.

Embrace (blue) H41W60D41cms £3,250
Embrace (Blue) Painted Fired Clay Sculpture, Height 41cm x Width 60cm x Depth 41cm

CF: Do you plan the sculptures on paper?
PV: No, though I do sometimes have to do some maths in working out the geometry of a piece, to make sure they interlock when I arrange them. A lot of that is guesswork.

Templates for Patricia Volk's sculptures
work in progress - Patricia Volk's sculptures
work in progress - Patricia Volk's sculptures

CF: Do you experiment with pattern on the surface?

PV: On the first piece I did after the ITV “ident” I did experiment, but I feel with the later pieces the forms are quite complicated and it is more about the interacting of the shapes, and the marking would be a distraction.

Knot, Painted Fired Clay Sculpture, Height 43cm x Width 34cm x Depth 34cms (SOLD)

CF How do you think this body of work will evolve Patricia?

PV: Each one I learn from and try to take forward on to the next piece. To the outside, it might seem like a regular series that resemble each other quite closely, but to me, it’s a progression, a journey of discovery. Just by doing subtle differences, to my eye, changes it completely. It’s probably being obsessed over those small, incremental tweaks that make us artists. A craving to get it “right” – but of course there is no such thing.

Peach ceramic sculpture by Patrick Volk
Embrace (Apricot), Painted Fired Clay Sculpture, Height 38cm x Width 40cm x Depth 32cm

CF: Perhaps to your eye Patricia, but to ours and to those of your collectors, you get it “right” a lot of the time and we look forward to seeing how this work progresses.  Thanks for talking to us Patricia.


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