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Rudy (Rudolf Arne) Autio
(American, b.1926)
Vortex
1999
stoneware with glazes, 34" x 24 1/2" x 24"
Special Purchase Fund; Donors: Martha Alworth, Kay Biga & Patrick Spott, Elizabeth Adams Brownlee, Florence & Roger Collins, Mary & John Dwan, Rhondi Erickson & Sandy Lewis, Beverly & Erwin Goldfine, Lilian & Manley Goldfine, Chuck House, Sharon & Joel Labovitz, Pran & Joe Leek, Robert & Fran Leff, Raija Matcheldt, Diane & Robert Meierhoff, Robin & Stuart Seiler, Alva & Mitch Sill. U.S. Bank–David Gaddie: President, Katherine Watters

Rudy Autio created Vortex in his Missoula, Montana studio soon after giving lectures and a clay workshop at the University of Minnesota Duluth, where the Tweed Museum of Art had organized an exhibition of his sculptures and drawings. While he had conducted dozens of such workshops all over the world throughout his career, Autio remarked that this was the first presentation he had made in recent years and that it served to reenergize his work. A consortium of donors from the Duluth area made the acquisition of Vortex possible, strengthening the museum’s already significant holdings of ceramics. A second work by Autio, Thunder Bay, 1999, created during his Duluth workshop, was also acquired at this time through the museum’ s Sax and Glenn C. Nelson Purchase Funds.

Demonstrating his considerable skills as a draftsman, sculptor, and colorist, Vortex is a masterful work in Autio’s trademark style. This unique blend of two- and three-dimensional art has brought him international recognition for over three decades, making Autio one of the most popular and influential ceramic artists of post-WWII America. Though first attracted to the sculpture’s exuberant color, graceful line and evocative form, further exploration reveals Autio’s concerns with the history of Greek, Asian and pre-Columbian figurative ceramic vessels and with the linear drawing style of artists like Matisse, Picasso and Japanese printmakers like Munakata. Then, as if the combination of suggestive sculptural form and skillfully decorated surface were not enough, the narratives suggested by Autio’s figures and their titles add another level of meaning through poetic references to mythology, the folklore of his native Montana, and the landscapes of his home and travels.

The youngest of three sons born in Butte to Finnish immigrants during the boom years of the mining industry, Autio’ s early training was in drawing, painting and sculpture under the G.I. Bill at Montana State College in the late 1940s. As the New York school of abstract expressionist painting exerted its considerable influence on world art in the 1950s, Autio and fellow MSC student Peter Voulkos started experimenting with clay as an expressive sculptural medium, as opposed to a material for producing only decorated functional wares. Both Autio and Voulkos (1924-2002) began working for Archie Bray, owner of the Montana Brick Company and an art patron who, with their help, developed a center for ceramic arts known as the Archie Bray Foundation. Creating and firing his own work at the factory after working there during the day, Autio emerged from his years (1952–56) at Bray with the seeds of his mature work, and in 1957 began a twenty-eight year teaching career at the University of Montana in Missoula. His patient dedication to the refinement of a unique, trademark style and his integrity as a teacher and advocate of ceramic art have made Autio one of the most widely respected and quietly influential clay artists working today.

 
 
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