Ron Nagle makes small ceramic sculptures, which are often witty and always delicious. He showed eleven works at Chicago's Perimeter Gallery, June 8-July 8, 2001.
Nagle discovered clay at San Francisco State College during the late 1950s. A teacher showed him work by the ceramics revolutionaries of the day -- Peter Voulkos, Michael Frimkess, John Mason, Ken Price and others. After that, he says, "nothing else mattered." He soon met Voulkos and eventually became his studio assistant. He now teaches at Mills College in Oakland, Ca.
Shaped and scaled like mugs, Nagle's sculptures have small holes at their centers and hard-to-grasp handles that recall butter knives, stalagmites, and columns. They generally lean to the right and many incorporate elements of Southern California architecture. A few are not vessel forms at all.
Nagle is a master of colors and glazes. Eleven Is Beautiful and Beaver of Love (both 2001) are mug shapes decorated in solid colors. Color areas are bordered with blushes. The artist even colors the bottom of each piece such that we see a slight glow where the base of the work touches the pedestal. Nagel painted hot rods as a young man and adapted automotive lacquering techniques to ceramics. He has applied as many as 30 layers of color to a single sculpture.
Thataway (1999) suggests two carrots in deep conversation. The artist applies color blushes everywhere, blending them into each other. Some glazes contain tiny bits of sparkle. Extragordonary II (1999) looks like a top hat with a big potato standing erect on its brim. Nagel paints it an eye-popping orange with blushes around the lid.
We need more artists like Ron Nagel. Tirelessly inventive, he is an excellent craftsman with a sense of humor, whose work looks like it was made without effort.
VICTOR M. CASSIDY writes on art from Chicago.
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