Ron Nagle has made stunning, entirely unique small sculptures since the 1950s, producing a body of work that is as original as it is mischievous. He mixes allusions to modernism, middlebrow culture, and the specific pop sensibility of Northern California in exquisitely formed works that are often no bigger than a few inches. This exhibition marks his first survey in the Bay Area in over twenty-five years.
A student of legendary ceramicist and UC Berkeley professor Peter Voulkos, Nagle participated in an important dialogue with ceramic artists like Ken Price and Jim Melchert from the 1960s onward. He began his career making funky, rough cups and vessels out of earthenware, and by the early 1960s was using low-fire, slip casting techniques, making smoother surfaces and bringing into play the luminous colors that would become his calling card. Later, he also began gluing elements together, muddying the purity of ceramics and allowing more flexibility of form. In his recent works, Nagle continues to diverge from traditional ceramic processes, introducing synthetic materials such as polyurethane and resin.
Nagle integrates varied references—from Japanese tea ceremony to Krazy Kat and art-historical movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism, and Pop art—in his series of sculptures. He has said, “I’m just as moved by seeing a 1934 DeSoto Airflow or by listening to ‘Waterloo Sunset’ by the Kinks as I am by most things in a museum.” Many of the artist’s key artistic influences have come from painting, including such diverse figures as Philip Guston, Giorgio Morandi, and Josef Albers. Each sculptural object starts as a casual drawing or a distractedly made doodle, which Nagle then translates into a three-dimensional object that retains the imagistic quality of the original drawing.
Made with an overarching sense of playfulness and linguistic humor, a bodily and architectural sensibility, and a keen attention to color, these finely tuned, pitch-perfect sculptures condense sensory wonder into perfect packages of experience and feeling. Their miniature scale makes Nagle’s odd, elegant, sensual, and sometimes abject objects endlessly surprising models for imagination.