Viola Frey portrait, 1981 - Image source Creative Arts League Sacramento website

Viola Frey/ Viola Frey

United States 1933 - 2004

Sculpture, Painting, Drawing, Assemblage Art

www.artistslegacyfoundation.org

Viola Frey
Viola Frey
Female
United States
1933

Viola Frey was an American artist particularly famous for her prolific body of work – colorful, larger-than-life sculptures representing men and women. Apart from being a sculptor, she was also a painter, and a professor at California College of the arts. She was based in San Francisco Bay Area, where she produced a majority of her artwork, and gained an international reputation as one of the greatest contributors to modern art.

Background and Training

Viola Frey - Pegasus, 2000 - Image source Nancy Hoffman Gallery, Copyright of Artists' Legacy Foundation
Viola Frey – Pegasus, 2000 – All images are copyright of the Artists’ Legacy Foundation

Viola Frey was born in 1933, in Lodi California, where she grew up. Since she was a girl, she had shown a great interest in art. Her talent soon became evident – when she was 11, she was entered in a Sacramento Library drawing show for her replica of a Henri Matisse drawing, a Fauvism artist she highly praised.

Her academic training began at California College of Arts and Crafts, where she studied painting and ceramics with such artists as Richard Diebenkorn and Vernon Coykendall (also known as Corky). Frey obtained her BFA degree there in 1956, and moved on to Tulane University, New Orleans to continue her education, from which she graduated in 1958, receiving her MFA degree. She there studied under the mentorship of abstract expressionist Mark Rothko and sculptor George Ricky. Wanting to focus on ceramics, she moved to New York, and started working at Clay Art Center in Port Chester with ceramicist Katherine Choy. The center was one of the first places where artists could explore ceramics and all its potential. Today, Frey is among the artists like Robert Arneson and Peter Voulkos, who are considered responsible for pushing the traditional boundaries of ceramic sculpture.

Monumental Sculptures – Monumental Artist

Viola Frey - Figure Study F (Fallen Man), 1996 - Image source Nancy Hoffman Gallery, Copyrihgt of Artists' Legacy Foundation
Viola Frey – Figure Study F (Fallen Man), 1996

Upon her return to San Francisco in 1960, Frey started producing her famous assemblages and large tondo plates, which immediately put her in the forefront in world of modern art. Some of her work indeed is autobiographical, but Frey also investigated the history of art and cultural iconography, but her main focus was the issue of gender equality. However, it wasn’t until 1970s that she began producing her unique massive sculptures. That was the year when she moved to Oakland and opened her studio. Assembled from many separate pieces and amounting to nine feet, Frey’s sculptures represent men in suits and ties, and women old-fashioned brightly colored dresses. She also depicted women holding a globe, thus empowering them. The men with confused faces are sometimes standing or falling.

Even though Frey created huge, larger-than-life sculptures, she was also interested in smaller ones. The numerous ceramic figurines she collected became inspiration for her work. Some of the figurines became a part of her assemblage pieces, while others provided imagery for her works on paper.
Frey’s appreciation of human body and figure wasn’t reflected solely through her sculptures – she also produced a remarkable number of paintings and pastel drawings, which have been extensively exhibited.

Frey’s Tenure and Achievements

In 1965, Viola Frey became a member of the faculty at the California College of Arts and Crafts, an institution that helped shape her exceptional creative talent. She was teaching there until 1999, and was the head of the Ceramics Program. She was then awarded the status of professor emerita, and the Viola Frey Chair in Fine Arts was founded in 2003. Frey also received the Award of Honor in Sculpture from the San Francisco Arts Commission.

Along with Squeak Carwarth, Frey co-founded the Artists’ Legacy Foundation. The organization promotes and cherishes the artists’ legacy, as well as supports and provides grants and awards for distinguished painters and sculptors.

Viola Frey - Untitled (Man in Suit with Rooster in Pants), 1996 - Image source Nancy Hoffman Gallery, Copyrihgt of Artists' Legacy Foundation
Viola Frey – Untitled (Man in Suit with Rooster in Pants), 1996

Frey’s work has been extensively exhibited in numerous museums and galleries, including Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and San Francisco Museum and Oakland Museum in California. Bigger, Better, More: The Art of Viola Frey was a 2009 posthumous exhibition held in Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin, and traveled to the Museum of Arts and Design in 2010. Her works are also a part of various collections, both public and private.
Frey is represented by Nancy Hoffman Gallery.

Viola Frey lived and worked in Oakland, California, until her death in 2004.

Featured image: Viola Frey portrait, 1981 – Image source Creative Arts League Sacramento website
Other images copyright © the artist

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2015Viola Frey: A Personal IconographyNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
2013-2014Winter BluesNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
2013Color: The Splendor ofNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
201340 YearsNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
2012Echoes of ImagesNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
2012The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their WorldPennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PhiladelphiaGroup
2012Local Treasures: Bay Area CeramicsBerkeley Art Center, Berkeley, CAGroup
2012To Be a Lady: Forty-Five Women in the Arts1285 Avenue of the Americas Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
2011Claybodies: Reinterpreting the FigureHunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, New JerseyGroup
2010Every Man, Every Woman: The Figures of Viola FreyNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
2010Legacy in Paint and ClaySylvia White Gallery, Ventura CaliforniaSolo
2010Go Figure!Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, Stanford, CaliforniaGroup
2010Narcissus in the Studio: Artist Portraits and Self-PortraitsPennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, PhiladelphiaGroup
2009-10Bigger, Better, More: The Art of Viola FreyRacine Art Museum, WisconsinSolo
2009Dirt on Delight: Impulses That Form ClayWalker Art Center, Minneapolis, MinnesotaGroup
2009Titans ll: Viola Frey and Robert ArnesonASU Art Museum - Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, ArizonaDuo
2009TITANS: Robert Arneson and Viola FreyASU Art Museum - Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, ArizonaDuo
2009Dirt on Delight: Impulses That Form ClayCalifornia - Institute of Contemporary ArtGroup
2008Viola FreyRena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
2008Out of Shape: Bodies in Contemporary ArtNorton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FloridaGroup
2008The Human Touch: Selections from the RBC Dain Rauscher CollectionRochester Art Center, Rochester, MinnesotaGroup
2007Viola Frey: Relationships/InterrelationshipsNancy Hoffman Gallery, New YorkSolo
2007A Legacy of Art: The Ted and Ruth Nash CollectionOakland Museum of California, Oakland, CaliforniaGroup
2006CirclesNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2006A Ceramic Legacy - Selections from the Stéphane Janssen and R. Michael Johns ColArizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, ArizonaGroup
2005—06Viola Frey: A Lasting LegacyAvampato Discovery Museum, Charleston, West Virginia.Solo
2005The Anniversary ShowRena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
2004The True Artist Is an Amazing Luminous FountainKreeger Museum, Washington, DCGroup
2003New WorkRena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
2003SceneryRena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
2003On the Wall: Wallpaper and TableauFabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaGroup
2003Poetics of Clay: An International PerspectiveHouston Center for Contemporary Craft, Houston, TexasGroup
2002Viola FreyNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
2002The Erotic Life of ClaySan Francisco State University Art Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
2002The 30th Anniversary ExhibitionCalifornia Schlossberg Fine Arts, Sherman Oaks, CaliforniaGroup
2001Larger than Life: Ceramic Figures by Viola FreyBoise Art Museum, Boise, IdahoSolo
2001Paperworks and From the Figure to the BodySanta Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CaliforniaGroup
2001Comic ReliefRena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
2001Poetics of Clay: An International PerspectivePhiladelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;Group
2000Viola FreyRena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
2000The Lighter Side of Bay Area FigurationSan Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CaliforniaGroup
2000Color and Fire: Defining Moments in Studio Ceramics, 1950—2000LACMALos Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
2000Art Takes FlightSan Francisco Airport International Terminal, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1999Viola FreyNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
1999Born of Clay 3Garth Clark Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
1998Survey of Work from 1969—1981Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1998Objects of DesireNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
1998The 25th Anniversary ExhibitionCalifornia Schlossberg Fine Arts, Sherman Oaks, CaliforniaGroup
1998Uit het EKWCStedelijk Museum, 's-Hertogenbosch, Amsterdam, NetherlandsGroup
1998Women in the Weisman Collection: The Sprirt of Seneca FallsFrederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MNGroup
1997PlatesFrank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica, CaliforniaSolo
1997Color DetourApex Art C.P., New York, New YorkGroup
1996Viola FreyRiva Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, Arizona and Santa Fe, New MexicoSolo
1995Viola FreyRena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1995Viola FreyKarin Delcourt van Krimpen, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsSolo
1994-96Viola Frey: Plates 1968-94Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
1993Viola FreyNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
1992Viola FreyCrocker Museum of Art, Sacramento, CaliforniaSolo
1992Viola FreyFabric Workshop, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaSolo
1992Viola FreyFresno Museum of Art, Fresno, CaliforniaSolo
1992Viola FreyNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
1992Viola Frey Works on PaperRena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1992Works on Paper: The Craft Artist as DraftsmanRenwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art, Washington, DCGroup
1992RemovedEsprit Sculpture Garden, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1991-92Group ShowDeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, MassachusettsGroup
1991-92Experiencing Sculpture: The Figure in American ArtHudson River Museum, Yonkers, New YorkGroup
1991Viola FreyNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
1991Smith Collects ContemporarySmith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MassachusettsGroup
1991Diverse DirectionsTransameria Pyramid Lobby, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1991National Objects InternationalArkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, ArkansasGroup
1991De-PersonaOakland Museum of California, Oakland, CaliforniaGroup
1990Viola FreyRena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1990Oakland’s Artist ’90Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CaliforniaGroup
1990National Drawing InvitationalArkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, ArkansasGroup
1990Drawings by SculptorsNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkGroup
1990American Craft Museum: Building a Permanent CollectionAmerican Craft Museum, New York, New YorkGroup
1990American Ceramic SculptureNational Museum of Ceramic Art, Baltimore, MarylandGroup
1989-93Craft Today: U.S.A.American Craft Museum, New York, New YorkGroup
1989-90The FigureArkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, ArkansasGroup
1989-90Perth International Crafts TriennialArt Gallery of Western AustraliaGroup
1989Viola FreyNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
1989Rain of Talent: Umbrella ArtFabric Workshop, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaGroup
1989Images of American Pop Culture Today IIILa Foret Museum, Koto-ku, JapanGroup
1989Ceramic Traditions: FigurationPalo Alto Cultural Center, Palo Alto, CaliforniaGroup
1988Viola FreyAsher-Faure Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaSolo
1988Urban FiguresWhitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, New York, New YorkGroup
1988Portraits: Here’s Looking at YouAnchorage Museum of History and Art, Anchorage, AlaskaGroup
1988Just Like a WomanGreenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, South CarolinaGroup
1988ColumnarHudson River Museum of Art, Yonkers, New YorkGroup
1988Classical Myth and Imagery in Contemporary ArtQueens Museum, Flushing, New YorkGroup
1988American Pop Culture Today IIILa Foret Museum, Koto-ku, JapanGroup
1987-89California Figurative SculpturePalm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs CaliforniaGroup
1987-89Quatre américans à la Manufacture de SévresAmerican Center, Paris, FranceGroup
1987-89Sculptors’ DrawingsUniversity of Idaho, Moscow, IdahoGroup
1987-89The Eloquent ObjectPhilbrook Art Center, Tulsa, OklahomaGroup
1987-89Clay Revisions: Plate, Cup and VaseSeattle Art Museum, Seattle, WashingtonGroup
1987Viola FreyNancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, New YorkSolo
1987Viola FreyRena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1986-88Craft Today: Pottery of the PhysicalNew YorkGroup
1986Viola FreyAsher-Faure Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaSolo
1986Inez Storer and Viola FreySite 311, Pacific Grove, CaliforniaDuo
1986Painting and Sculpture Today:1986Indianapolis, Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IndianaGroup
1986Painters Who SculptPalo Alto Cultural Center, Palo Alto, CaliforniaGroup
1986Material and Metaphor: Contemporary American Ceramic SculptureChicago Public Library Cultural Center, Chicago, IllinoisGroup
1986Contemporary American Studio Pottery: An OverviewVictoria and Albert Museum, London, EnglandGroup
1986Collector’s Gallery XXMcNay Art Institute, San Antonio, TexasGroup
1985Viola FreyRena Bransten Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1985Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945—1980Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CaliforniaGroup
1985American Clay Artists: Philadelphia ’85Port History Museum, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaGroup
1984Viola FreyAsher-Faure Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaSolo
1984Viola FreyWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, New YorkSolo
1984It’s All Part of the Clay: Viola FreyMoore College of Art, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaSolo
1984The 20th Century: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art CollectionSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1984A Passionate Vision: Contemporary Ceramics from the Daniel Jacobs CollectionDeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, MassachusettsGroup
1984Here and Now: Fatimah and/or Fred?Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, South CarolinaGroup
1984Figurative Sculpture: Ten Artists/Two DecadesUniversity Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach, CaliforniaGroup
1984Directions in Contemporary American CeramicMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston, MassachusettsGroup
1984Art of the States: Works from the Santa Barbara CollectionSanta Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CaliforniaGroup
1984American Sculpture: Three DecadesSeattle Art Museum, Seattle, WashingtonGroup
1983Small FiguresGarth Clark Gallery, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
1983Nuclear Age: Tradition and TransitionPhoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, ArizonaGroup
1983Contemporary Clay Sculpture: Selections form the Daniel Jacobs CollectionHeckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, New YorkGroup
1983College of Arts and Crafts FacultySan Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1983Ceramic EchoesNelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MissouriGroup
1983California Clay WorksSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1983Clay for WallsSmithsonian Institution, Washington, DCGroup
1982Viola Frey: FiguresCalifornia State University, Fullerton, CaliforniaSolo
1982Viola FreyMark Twain Bank, Kansas City, MissouriSolo
1982Viola FreyQuay Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1982West Coast Ceramic ArtistsSan Jose State, San Jose, CaliforniaGroup
1982Three Dimensions: Clay, Glass, FiberKatonah Gallery, Katonah, New YorkGroup
1982Pacific Currents: Ceramics 1982San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CaliforniaGroup
1982100 Years of California SculptureOakland Museum of California, Oakland, CaliforniaGroup
1982College of Arts and Crafts: FacultyRichmond Art Center, Richmond, CaliforniaGroup
1982Collectors WeekendAmerican Craft Museum, New York, New YorkGroup
1982Clay Bodies/AutioDeStaebler and Frey, Maryland Institute, College of Art, Baltimore, MarylandGroup
1982Art and/or Craft: U.S.A and JapanHokuriku Hoso Kaikan, (MRO Gallery), JapanGroup
1982Narrative CeramicsImpressions Gallery, Boston, MassachusettsGroup
1981Viola Frey: A RetrospectiveCrocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CaliforniaSolo
1981Wedgwood InvitationalButen Museum of Wedgwood, Merion, PennsylvaniaGroup
19817 Ceramic SculptorsSanta Rosa Junior College Art Gallery, Santa Rosa, CaliforniaGroup
1981The VesselDelahunty Gallery, Dallas, TexasGroup
1980Viola FreyQuay Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1980Viola FreyClay Plus, Purdue University Union Gallery, Purdue, IndianaSolo
1980The Clay FigureMuseum of Contemporary Crafts, New York, New YorkGroup
1980The Animal Image: Contemporary Objects and the BeastRenwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DCGroup
1980Sculpture and ClayWalter Phillips Gallery, Banff Centre for Continuing Education, School of Fine Arts, Banff, Alberta, CanadaGroup
1979Century of Ceramics in the United StatesEverson Museum, Syracuse New YorkGroup
1979The Unpainted Portrait: Contemporary Portraiture in Non-Traditional MediaKohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WisconsinGroup
1979Large-Scale Ceramic SculptureRichard L. Nelson Gallery, University of California, Davis, CaliforniaGroup
1979West Coast Clay SpectrumSecurity Pacific Bank, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGroup
1979SpacesWalnut Creek Civic Arts Center, Walnut Creek, CaliforniaGroup
1978Soap Box DerbySan Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1977Viola FreyWenger Gallery, La Jolla, CaliforniaSolo
1977Overglaze Imagery: Cone 019-016Visual Arts Center, California State University, Fullerton, CaliforniaGroup
1977Viewpoint: Ceramics 1977Grossmont College Art Gallery, El Cajon, CaliforniaGroup
1977A Teapot ShowEl Camino College Art Gallery, El Camino, CaliforniaGroup
1976CCAC Clay 1976Chabot College Art Gallery, Hayward State University, Hayward, CaliforniaGroup
1975Viola FreyHank Baum Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1975Viola FreyHank Baum Gallery, Century City, CaliforniaSolo
1975Viola FreyWenger Gallery, La Jolla, CaliforniaSolo
1975Capricorn Crafts Exhibitde Young Museum, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1974Viola FreyWenger Gallery San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1974BaroqueMuseum of Contemporary Crafts, New York, New YorkGroup
1974U.I.A.C. Crafts ExhibitionPhiladelphia College of Art, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaGroup
1973Viola FreyWenger Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaSolo
1973The Great Oakland Myth: Ceramic ArtWenger Gallery, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1973Annual San Francisco Outdoor FestivalSan Francisco Art Commission, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1973Media Survey ’73Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, San Diego, CaliforniaGroup
1972Ceramics WestUtah State University, Logan, UtahGroup
1971Association of San Francisco Potters Ceramic Statement 1971 Exhibitionde Young Museum, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1971California Design XIPasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, CaliforniaGroup
1970Chico State College Ceramic National InvitationalChico State College, Chico, CaliforniaGroup
19691969 CCAC Alumni Painting and Sculpture ShowCalifornia College of Arts and Crafts Gallery, Oakland, CaliforniaGroup
1968-6925th Ceramic National ExhibitionEverson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New YorkGroup
1968Bay Area Arts and Crafts GuildCollege of Notre Dame, Belmont, CaliforniaGroup
1968CCAC Faculty ShowCrown Zellerbach Building, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1968Media ’68Walnut Creek Art Center, Walnut Creek, CaliforniaGroup
1968Association of San Francisco Potters Ceramic Statement 1968 Exhibitionde Young Museum, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1967Ceramics by Viola Frey and Peter LaytonArt Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IllinoisDuo
1967Phelan Art AwardsCalifornia Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1967Association of San Francisco PottersContemporary Crafts Gallery, Portland, OregonGroup
1966Association of San Francisco Potters Ceramic Statement Exhibitionde Young Museum, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1965Crocker InvitationalCrocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CaliforniaGroup
1965Association of San Francisco Potters Ceramic Statement Exhibitionde Young Museum, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1963-64Association of San Francisco Potters Ceramic Statement Exhibitionde Young Museum, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1962Group ShowCrocker Art Gallery, Sacramento, CaliforniaGroup
1962San Francisco Pottersde Young Museum, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1961San Francisco Pottersde Young Museum, San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1961Group ShowRichmond Art Center, Richmond, CaliforniaGroup