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Ken Vavrek: Recent Wall Sculpture

July 8, 1983
Judith Stein

A writer and curator, studied at Barnard College, and has a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Eye of the Sixties, Richard Bellamy and the Transformation of Modern Art, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016). Her curatorial projects include Red Grooms, A Retrospective, for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and The Figurative Fifties, New York School Figurative Expressionism, co-curated with Paul Schimmel. Her exhibition, I Tell My Heart: The Art of Horace Pippin, traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995, and earned a best catalogue award from AICA/USA. Her articles, interviews and reviews have appeared in Art in America, Art News, and The New York Times Book Review, as well as on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air and Morning Edition. Among her honors is a Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant; a Pew Fellowship for literary non-fiction; and a Lannan Foundation writing residency in Marfa, Texas.

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"Thrusting desert mountains have shapes, forms, and surfaces that directly relate to my experiences in pushing clay around."

July 8 through August 21, 1983
The very face of the land is called to mind in Ken Vavrek’s recent wall sculpture. Expanses of slab-built clay position themselves like shifting earth plates. With active gestures and subtle color, Vavrek marks the surface and contour of each compositional element. Pocked, scratched and strafed by the artist, the clay may read as bark, shell or soil. Smoother segments undulate like sand dunes and offer visual islands of repose. Ochre, acqua and mauve may pool power to pull us into unexpected harmonies.
While they make reference to landscape forms, these deep reliefs are essentially abstract configurations. Vavrek works with a high-temperature stoneware clay, first applying high-fire soft-toned glazes, and then brushing on the low-fire brighter colors. The pieces are fired a minimum of three times and it is not unusual for Vavrek to go on to five firings to correct and balance the coloration.
Judith Stein
Morris Gallery Coordinator
Artist Statement
Thrusting desert mountains have shapes, forms, and surfaces that directly relate to my experiences in pushing clay around. My urban environment stands in high contrast to the intense absence of man in those western spaces. My mind is energized by this disparity. Shards, obliterated foundations, and strange fossils in the desert coupled with the tops of buildings, billboards, various architectural structures, and oblique intersections in the city are among the things that shape my art.
In addition to these exterior concerns I try to remain faithful to the material and to some degree expose the process of constructing the forms. Looking back I find these internal involvements help reveal a sense of strength, vulnerability, space, and time. And it’s not irrelevant that I’m interested in the way cloud shadows enhance a sunny day.
Ken Vavrek
All sculptures are fired stoneware clay with high – and low – temperature glazes. All dimensions are in inches, height preceding width and depth.
1. Strong Hold, 1983
30 x 6-1/2 x 11
Lent by Peter and Ellen
2. Easy Breach, 1982
27 x 69 x 11-1/2
Lent by Bertram and Barbara Horowitz
3. Rough Break, 1981
28 1/2 x 42 x 8-3/4
4. Rough and Ready, 1982
66 x 56 x 12-1/2
5. Passage, 1983
55 x 156 x 14
6. Whipper Snapper, 1983
61 x 107 x 14-1/2
7. Close Order, 1981
18-1/2 x 39-1/2 x 10
8. Crossed Wind, 1982
11 x 37-1/2 x 7-1/4
9. Riders, 1981
14-3/4 x 40 x 8-1/2
Ken Vavrek was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1939. He received both his B.F.A. (1963) and his M.F.A. (1965) degrees from Ohio University. A Professor of Art at Moore College since 1970, Vavrek is the recipient of a Craftsmen’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1977) and a Fellowship in Crafts from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (1983). He is a co-founder and board member of The Clay Studio, Philadelphia.
Vavrek has conducted workshops at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle, Me. (1972); the International Ceramics Symposium, Memphis Academy of Arts (1973); and Peter’s Valley Crafts Center, Layton, N.J. (1981). His work is included in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Center, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, and the private collections of R. Joseph Monsen, Seattle, Washington, and Ben Short, New York, NY.

“Ken Vavrek’s Wall Sculpture,” Ceramics Monthly (March 1983), pp. 34-35.
Sid Sachs, “Kenneth Vavrek,” American Ceramics (1983, no. 1), pp. 70-71.
The Morris Gallery displays the work of outstanding contemporary artists with a connection to Philadelphia, determined by birth, schooling or residence. The exhibitions are chosen by a committee composed of area artists, museum personnel and collectors, and the curatorial staff of the Academy. Currently serving on the Morris Gallery Exhibition Committee are: Murray Dessner, Anne d’Harnoncourt, Jennie Q. Dietrich, Harold Jacobs, Janet Kardon, Charles Mather III, Dr. Perry Ottenberg, David Pease, Jody Pinto, Acey Wolgin; and Academy staff Frank Goodyear, Kathy Foster, Linda Bantel, Judith Stein.
Copyright Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1983
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