Our exclusive Q&A with sculptor and Academician Patricia Volk…
“… I think colour relates to size and balance, almost a mathematical combination… I can’t tell how the viewer will respond, I can only go by how I respond….”
From her studio near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, Patricia Volk creates striking, instantly-recognisable sculptures: often simple forms made in clay, then fired and finished with acrylic paint in a distinctively bold colour palette.
Born in Belfast, Patricia studied art at Middlesex Polytechnic and Bath Spa University, and she is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Sculptors. Her works have appeared in numerous exhibitons around the UK and grace the collections of author Anthony Horowitz, Lord Carrington and Mary Portas, among others. She has been commissioned to create an ident for ITV and was recently included in Aurora Metro book 50 Women Sculptors. Patricia was elected as an Academician of the RWA in 2019.
Here’s our Q&A…
When did you realise you were an artist?
The truth is, I knew from the age of about four years old. When people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say “I want to be an artist.” I didn’t talk till I was about four, but I could draw and I was obsessed by it. It was where my whole self esteem came from. It’s only now I realise that there was something different about me from the beginning. Part of that was dyslexia, which was not acknowledged at the time.
Why do you make art?
It makes me disappear from everyday problems and go into another space. It’s a kind of escape.
What other artists, works or art traditions have most influenced you?
Everything influences me all the time. Every day I walk around and see something exciting. As far as the materials I use, I am mostly influenced by the American tradition of “painted fired clay” – a term used by Ken Price. I’m drawn to a lot of sculptors of a certain era, like Anthony Caro, Ron Nagle, Garth Evans. Also Agnes Martin and Jun Kaneko. A particular influence at the moment for me is Eduardo Chillida.
Your work is immediately recognisable – not least because of the distinctive colour palette. Would it be fair to describe your art as exploring the relationship between form and colour, and the various effects that surprising combinations of form and colour can have on the viewer?
Very much so. I think colour relates to size and balance, almost a mathematical combination. You use a yellow and it can only take up so much space, that kind of thing, which you learn by instinct. Some of the colours take a while to get right because of the subtlety of different tones. I can’t tell how the viewer will respond, I can only go by how I respond.
How has your work changed or evolved through your career? Was there a particular turning point?
I started off making figurative work, almost symbolic rendering of heads. I was totally obsessed with them at the time, and the use of heads as icons in the history of art. I reached a point when I exhausted where I could go with that and it was edging into the abstract, so I decided to completely simplify the forms down to see if it was still “me”. I found that it was, and this opened an exciting way forward.
“…I decided to completely simplify the forms down to see if it was still “me”. I found that it was, and this opened an exciting way forward….”
What is your usual process for making an artwork? And is there a significant difference in how you approach a commission (such as the ITV ident) versus sculptures for galleries or private collectors?
I was daunted by the brief for the ITV ident. Not just the idea but the practicality of making it, but it was a task that opened a new door creatively from which evolved my Knot and Embrace pieces. Self-motivation is the most difficult thing because galleries will never ask you to do what you want to do next, they always want what you have done before. But it is always up to the artist to move forward, irrespective of commercial pressures. That is the scary, but exciting, part. The next thing is always the most interesting. I always try to get better at what I do and never repeat myself.
What did becoming elected as an Academician of the RWA mean to you? And what role does the RWA play in your life generally?
I was very surprised and delighted to have been selected, but it has been a difficult year, so although I hope to be more active in the RWA in the future, it has been pretty much impossible in 2020.
How has 2020, year of the pandemic and the lockdown, affected you and your work?
At the beginning, during the first lockdown, which came at a relevant time in a series of work I was doing, I didn’t feel I could travel to my workshop, but as time went on I decided it was “essential travel” and isolation was driving me insane. There are only so many walls you can decorate at home. Strangely, because I don’t feel that awful feeling of failure because galleries have not been in contact (because everything is dead right now), I concentrate on the work and don’t try to evaluate what people think of it. So it is freeing in that sense, in spite of the general atmosphere of ongoing anxiety.
What are you working on now?
I’m upscaling, working on almost architectural forms which are challenging in the material I use. I’m stretching the limits of the kiln. I am enjoying working out the construction and practicalities.
Finally, a fairy godmother waves her magic wand and says you can own any artwork in the world. What do you choose?
I would like a nice big Jun Kaneko. It’s only twenty feet high, so you would have to give me a bigger house.
You can see more examples of Patricia’s work on her website.