Teapots -- with a twist

Picasso, Marilyn Monroe among artist's ceramic depictions

January 11, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

To Noi Volkov, a simple faucet, a model of a Ford Thunderbird and photos of Marilyn Monroe and Woody Allen are more than just odds and ends.

To him, they are the makings for a ceramic teapot.

"I am trying to create a new, unorthodox style of ceramics," said the 60-year-old Owings Mills man. "It's a mixture of Renaissance and pop art. It has a little bit of Dali and some Picasso."

The teapot uses the back of the T-bird model as a handle, the faucet as the spout, and images of Monroe and Allen on either side of the body.

It is one of several created by Volkov, whose work will be featured along with 70 other artists in 100 Teapots III, an exhibition opening Saturday at Baltimore Clayworks in Mount Washington.

Volkov has established himself as a painter in the art world, and his teapots have also gained notice in the art world, said Forrest Snyder, the exhibition director at Baltimore Clayworks. His teapots are a "contemporary takeoff" on artists such as Jan Vermeer and Picasso, he said, adding: "He reconfigures their art into three-dimensional pieces with his own twist."

Volkov, in recounting his life as an artist, begins in his native Russia. He says he began drawing and painting in the 1960s as a middle school student.

Often using crude materials such as twigs for paintbrushes and household paint, Volkov used whatever he could get his hands on to create art. He continued his education at the Mukhina Institute of Art and Design in Leningrad, from which he graduated in 1973.

But Volkov says his development was stifled by the Soviet government. He said artists weren't allowed to see the works of artists from the West.

"And self-expression wasn't allowed," he said. "Artists were seen as servants of the state. We were only allowed to paint what the government said we could paint."

Volkov says he worked in an underground studio until the KGB discovered his work, arrested him and confiscated a couple of his paintings. One, dubbed Christ Appears to Brezhnev, shows Christ appearing above the Soviet leader; he painted it in 1979.

"The KGB didn't like that painting at all," he said with a chuckle.

He said he served two months in jail and then conformed to the demands of the authorities. He went through a bleak period during which he lost his family and drank heavily.

But a decade later, he remarried and his petition to emigrate was granted. And the art he had kept inside for nearly 20 years came flooding out.

"My work isn't like the work of any one artist," he said. "But it has qualities and features of several. When I discovered Picasso and Dali it changed my mentality. I fell in love with contemporary art. My own work became more complicated."

He said he works to combine the styles of old masters and contemporary artists into something new and eclectic.

Artist Genna Gurvich of Owings Mills said his friend's work is "like a vision of art history."

One teapot includes Titian's Mary Magdalene painted on the outside. Part of her body and face is painted onto the front of four panels down the front of the teapot. When opened. the teapot reveals Marilyn Monroe. He said that piece was sold to a Baltimore collector for $24,000, adding that he sells his works in New York, Chicago, Palm Springs, Los Angeles and Baltimore.

Other pots include: Mona Lisa painted on one side and Salvador Dali on the other side; one in the shape of two giant teardrops, one is the eye and facial features of Picasso, while the other one shows Salvador Dali.

Yet another pot is made in the likeness of Winston Churchill -- complete with cigar.

Asked which teapot is his favorite, Volkov said he hasn't made it yet.

"My favorite piece is in the future," he said. "It's like a new baby waiting to be born."

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