Viola Frey (American, born Lodi, California 1933 — 2004)

Well, it’s that good art only comes from bad taste. Which, when you think about it, it’s true. When you try to make art based on the best examples around, nothing ever happens. But if you do it from things that are considered bad taste, then you have a chance to create something.

From an early age, Viola Frey knew she wanted to be an artist; being an artist was the only way for her to survive. She studied painting and ceramics at the California College of Arts and Crafts and continued her dual interests at Tulane University under the tutelage of artist Mark Rothko.

Initially, Frey painted and sculpted figurative images on plates. Once she set up her studio in Oakland, she had the space to make large figurative work. Her inspiration for a broad color palate came directly from outside her studio. She needed to use bright and vivid colors to pop against the luscious green landscape.

Frey is best known for her monumental figures of men and women, representative of “everyman” and “everywoman,” dressed in culturally stigmatic clothes, such as suits and dresses. Built in one piece, she sawed them into sections and once they were dry, they provided the horizontal and vertical seam lines that reflect her California Funk roots.

Her figures have blank, empty, trancelike expressions on their faces, sometimes looking angry or confused, despite their strong and commanding presence. The colossal figures return viewers to a childlike state when the size of adults was enough to maintain their authority.