Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Patricia Volk, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Sculptors, was recently made an RWA academician, confirming her position as an outstanding visual artist working in painted fired clay; a term she much prefers to “ceramics”.
Now, her sculptures – strikingly colourful forms – grace the collections of Swindon Art Gallery and Museum, author Anthony Horowitz, former BAFTA chairman Simon Relph CBE, Lord Carrington and the television presenter Mary Portas. She was Regional Winner of the ING “Discerning Eye” prize in 2007, has been shortlisted for the prestigious Brian Mercer Residency, and has exhibited nationally and internationally.
She is proud to be included in 50 Women Sculptors, the first book to give an overview of women sculptors from 1880 to today, which explores the work of “extraordinary women artists who have forged a name for themselves in a male arena, as well as breaking rules, pushing boundaries and inspiring us with their visionary creations”.
Patricia Volk was commissioned by ITV in 2019 as part of the prestigious ‘ITV Creates’ initiative, making her sculpture visible on screen to millions of television viewers, and in 2017 she was invited by the Trustees of the Designer Crafts Foundation to go to Israel as one of their guest sculptors, speaking at the symposium in Tel Hai, lecturing both in Jerusalem at the Israel Museum and at the Benyamini Ceramics Centre in Tel Aviv.
As a sculptor I love working with the directness of clay, using all the techniques, coiling and slab building, making one-off pieces, which are fired, constructed, then finished with acrylic paint. My obsession is with catching a very simple form or line, then enhancing it with colour. Sometimes these stand alone, or are in combinations that I hope suggest opposites such as strength and fragility, stability and precariousness – very much reflecting the relationships we have as human beings. But also rest and activity, grace and motion – always attempting to give an inert object a lively, almost living, presence and a sense of strong individual character.
What excites me is the abstraction rather than trying to create a piece that represents or illustrates an idea. Really, working in clay is like play, and, being dyslexic, I have trouble expressing ideas in words, so I chose a medium where words aren’t necessary. Or, you could say, it chose me.
I put one colour against the other in a way that is satisfying or dynamic. It’s purely visual and non-intellectual. If there is a deeper meaning I like to think that is brought by the viewer: I don’t like to limit their experience by giving a sculpture a set explanation or description. Sometimes I know what is going on in my head, but more often I let my hands do the “thinking”. That doesn’t mean it’s easy – far from it, because I take a very long time to consider the exact colours and weigh them up. Some might watch my activity and indecision and quite honestly think it’s the total obsessiveness of a mad person.
I like the thought that the pieces look light, and float – a contradiction to the obvious physical weight of clay. I like the idea of uplift. I’m adamant they should be viewed at eye level, by walking around and looking at them from different angles. The surface texture can work to make the flatness of colour more nuanced and less machine-manufactured looking, adding a natural edginess on a vivid unnatural blue, for instance. I always work on a series of pieces at the same time because of the nature of the material (you cannot rush it), but the finished product is defined by the time it is modelled which can be affected by all sorts of things: weather, temperature, my mood, and so on. If you pushed me to say, I would like the combination of non-figurative form and colour combination to set off a series of ideas in the viewer’s mind – tranquility, elegance, power, sadness, rest, action, conflict, a sense of movement… all these things triggering human emotions of some kind.January 2020