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Wiltshire based sculptor Patricia Volk shares her inspiring story from office job to art school to making and painting ceramic sculptures – & the quest to conjure up musical notes in the air…

You hadn’t drawn for 20 years when you decided to take a year out to work on a portfolio and try to get into art college. What led to that decision?

I was at a party and I met a woman and told her I wanted to go to art college. I said I’d been studying at night classes, given up a proper job, but I wasn’t at all full of confidence, in fact the opposite, as all during my schooling there’d never been the remote possibility of my going to art college – it was an impossibility, but it was deep down what I’d always wanted to do but instead I’d got various jobs and ended up in an office job in an advertising agency. Anyway, this woman at the party sent me the application form for the Foundation Course at Middlesex Poly, which was a massively kind gesture I will never forget. I applied and went along with my portfolio and thought I didn’t have a hope in hell, but this wonderful thing happened and I got in.

Patricia Volk - Individuals

Patricia Volk – Individuals

Ceramic sculpture. 3.5 metres in length.

What were the best and worst parts of being a mature student at art school?

The best thing was, having been in a business environment (and having been so frustrated in it) I wanted to get stuck in and make the most of my time there, because I’d wasted quite a few years and now every day was precious. If you come straight from education I don’t think you have that urgency. But me, I was the first one there in the morning. Couldn’t wait to get in. The only “worst” thing was making up for lost time, and trying to get hold of tutors when you needed them.

Patricia Volk - Rest

Patricia Volk – Rest

Ceramic with acrylics mounted on slate/granite. 49 x 69 x 11cm (19 x 27 x 4″).

You’ve described the transition from creating figurative heads to simple abstract forms as setting you free. In what ways has abstraction given you more freedom?

I felt I was stuck in a rut. I knew that when the colours were taking over from the form as the personality of the piece. I felt the heads were restricting me, so not doing heads, stopping myself, was a sort of test, to see if I was still there when I didn’t make heads – and I found that I was. Also the heads were inevitably interpreted as a kind of person or an attribute of a person, whereas an abstract form needn’t be that – it can simply be a juxtaposition of colours, or a pleasing or discordant form or combination of the two that has drama, but avoids having a specific meaning.

Patricia Volk - Precarious 1 and 2

Patricia Volk – Precarious 1 & 2

Ceramic sculpture. 55 x 45 x 5cm (22 x 18 x 2″).

The sculptor Jun Kaneko says that any conceptual ideas just grow out of doing the work. Do you begin with a concept or does the work itself lead you to a destination?

The work itself dictates what it is, for me, always. I start with no preconceived ideas, it is partly a symbiosis between me as a maker and the material. I find if I start with a concept it gets in the way and is also in danger of being illustrational: that is fine but it’s not how my mind works, or what I find exciting.

Patricia Volk - Precarious (Book)


Buy Online

Patricia Volk – Precarious (Book)

80 page book showcasing Patricia Volk’s sculptures. Available in in softback and hardback.

What’s been your experience of selling work online or are you primarily selling through offline channels?

I think for sculpture especially people need to see your work one to one, get an idea of its presence in space so the gallery setting is always best. I think it helps to have a presence online, but not to sell directly through it.

Patricia Volk - Serendipity

Patricia Volk – Serendipity

Ceramic finished with Acrylics. 70 x 33 x 20cm (27.5 x 13 x 8″).

Has social media had any impact on your practice, from making connections to discovering new artists?

Twitter has made a tremendous difference to me – not only have I found new artists but have established very strong friendships. It is great for encouragement, when you put up a photograph of a new piece or a work in progress, to get instant feedback from people whose own work you admire.

Patricia Volk - Studio

A Glimpse of the Process

Head over to Patricia’s blog for a fascinating peek inside her studio as she documents the process of creating one of her sculptures over a six week period.

I read that you’re a big fan of your iPad and sometimes use it like a sketchbook. Can you elaborate on how it’s become a useful tool for creativity?

I take photographs all the way through the process of making, which enables me, say overnight, to doodle and try different colours or refine a line or just stare at it and ponder what isn’t quite right. The iPad also means I can always have my work with me, to show people.

Patricia Volk - Kinetic

Patricia Volk – Kinetic

Painted MDF. Each piece approx 34 x 38cm (13 x 15″).

You’ve talked previously about building a body of work – is there a particular thread that weaves your work together?

The thing I always come back to is the simplicity of line – a curve that might be so right that it takes your breath away, something that’s almost like a musical note in the air. Just trying to get a physical object that is more than just a solid object, that has an emotional impact or uplift or a grace or beauty, and sometimes you don’t even know why.

Patricia Volk - Totem

Patricia Volk – Totem

Ceramic finished with Acrylics. 68 x 59 x 14cm (27 x 23 x 5.5″).

Which artists come to mind who successfully balance form and colour?

For a pure kick I like looking at Richard Serra and Peter Randall Page. Almuth Tebbenhoff almost deliberately breaks a line and I love her subtle use of colour. Nick Hornby and Sinta Tantra have worked together to make some fantastic pieces in collaboration yet one is almost a contradiction to the other. And of course Jun Kaneko because they are so child-like, playful, energetic and fun.

Patricia Volk - Arc 4

Patricia Volk – Cradle 2

Ceramic with acrylics mounted on slate/granite. 50 x 49 x 29cm (20 x 19 x 11″).

You’re based on a farm near a community of people who work with their hands – what do you like about your location and is it important to balance that with city/gallery trips?

I just like working in a setting that is light industrial and where making is a real hands-on, unpretentious process rather than an overly intellectual one. Being dyslexic the theory doesn’t come easily to me and the practical impulse is what appeals most. Also, I think it might be because my father was a builder and when I used to go to where he worked he would always hand me a hammer or something so I always felt good in that working environment.

I also find it reassuring being surrounded by people with different skills – for a start it’s handy! But also being next to a stone mason with a tradition and respect for his craft going back generations, I find that inspiring. But I need the fix of keeping up to date with contemporary work and I’m never happier than wandering round the Venice Biennale or seeing Michael Craig-Martin’s work at The Serpentine – that is inspiring too, and it’s what gets you out of bed in the morning.

Patricia Volk Sculptor - Studio Space

Patricia Volk’s Sculpture Studio

Inside the studio where ceramic sculptures and wall pieces are created.

Thanks again to Patricia for being so generous with her time and for giving us a look into her creative process and influences.

‘Individuals’ will be showing at the Hannah Peschar Gallery from May 2016 onwards & Totem will be with Sheridan Russell Gallery at the AAF Battersea.

See more of Patricia’s work at and follow her on her blog, Twitter & Facebook.

Sources & further reading:

The Palette Pages interview with Lisa Grey
Redbird interview with Eileen Budd
Royal British Society of Sculptors – profile and artworks
Saatchi Art artworks
Crafts Council portfolio

If you enjoyed this then check out our other Artist Interviews, Artists To Watch & Artist Spotlights.