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 Viola Frey  (1933 - 2004)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: large-scale clay figure sculptures

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Ad Code: 3
Viola Frey
from Auction House Records.
Sleeping Man
Art © Artists’ Legacy Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY See Details
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Best known for monumental figurative sculptures with surfaces decorated with genre scenes in modernist style, Viola Frey also made quasi-autobiographical plates in a wide range of subjects and styles.

The plates were the subject of a traveling exhibition in 1996 and reflected twenty-five years of her career. Many of them are autobiographical with ingenious self portraits such as the child Viola with hair in pig tails or a pair of hands framing a large VIOLA signature.

She was born in Lodi, California and was raised on a farm in the vineyards. Her family hoarded junk. She became a collector of "found objects" and was also fascinated by the figurines that she found in shops on the West Coast. She took undergraduate studies at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland where she studied painting with Richard Diebenkorn. In 1958, she earned a BFA from Tulane University in New Orleans and by then had focused on ceramics, studying with Katherine Choy.

She followed Choy to Port Chester, New York to the Clay Art Center, and between 1958 and 1960, worked in New York City in the business office at the Museum of Modern Art. However, it was clear that the center of ceramic activity in the art world was the West Coast with Peter Voulkos in Los Angeles and Peter Arneson in San Francisco. But instead of patterning her work after the prevalent Funk Style, she was much more interested in the Bay Area figurative movement with Richard Diebenkorn and Joan Brown.

She taught at the Community College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and worked at Macy's department store. She foraged in flea markets for figurines, and by 1971 was selling her work as fast as she could make it.

Deciding to retreat and firm on her style and methods, she worked in seclusion from 1975 to 1981 and did not sell or exhibit during that time. She also did the first plates, hanging them in her yard. In 1981, her coming out was a retrospective at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento of her figures, collages, and surreal Desert Toys.

Frey died at the age of 70 in July 2004 from colon cancer at her home in Oakland, California.

Jules Heller & Nancy Heller, "North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century"
"New York Times" obituaries, July 30, 2004 by Ken Johnson

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