|Birth Date: August 15, 1933
|Death Date: July 26, 2004
|Viola Frey was born and raised in Lodi, California where her family maintained a vineyard of Zinfandel grapes. Frey often browsed art books from the local library and created watercolor pictures in her youth - she also completed drawings of her friends and neighbors, which she would sell for 25 cents. At the age of 11, Frey was entered into a drawing show at the Sacramento Library for her copy of a drawing by Henri Matisse.
Frey received her BFA in 1956 after taking classes at Stockton College (now San Joaquin Delta College) then attending the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts) in Oakland, California. She earned her MFA from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. There she was influenced by Mark Rothko and George Rickey.
Frey was drawn to the expressive potential of clay along with her colleagues Robert Arneson and Peter Voulkos, who were instrumental in cracking the barrier between craft and fine art. Frey primarily focused on clay, but applied glaze in the style of abstract painters and incorporated knickknacks into the molds, making her work an original and defining addition to Modern Art. By 1960 Frey had returned to San Francisco, where figurative art and working with clay were popular. During this period, she produced functional pottery, wall plates, and ceramic sculpture, in addition to continuing a rigorous painting and drawing practice that focused on still-life, landscape, and figural compositions. Frey worked in Macy's accounting department from 1960–70 to support herself, but she also began her teaching career.
Frey was a passionate collector and haunted the local flea markets - buying china, books, figurines and knick-knacks, all of this serving as inspiration for her junk sculptures, later called "bricolages." By curating and producing her own source of materials, Frey created a complex personal iconography that would serve as her creative wellspring throughout her artistic career and assist in her exploration of power and gender dynamics.
In 1975 Frey moved from San Francisco to Oakland, where she could expand her studio outside and study how natural light would interact with the commercial glazes that she preferred. As her figures became more colorful and increasingly taller—eventually reaching over 10 feet—her need for space grew. In 1983, as a supplement to the home and garden studio that she owned, she rented a 5,000-square-foot warehouse to accommodate the monumental works that she was building to challenge both the viewer and herself. In 1996 she purchased a 14,000-square-foot warehouse, where she worked until the day of her death in 2004.
Over the course of her five-decade career, Frey produced an impressive body of artwork, including ceramic sculptures, bronze sculptures, paintings, and drawings, and explored the mediums of glass, wallpaper, and photography.
Viola Frey died in her home in Oakland, California, at the age of 70.