Ron Nagle’s ceramics lie somewhere between object and art; on the one hand they are there to use and on the other to simply enjoy, and perhaps make you think. Initially the San Francisco-born artist used clay primarily to make the former, focusing on vessels. More recently he’s let his love for form and colour take over, creating pieces that are colourful and playful, quirky and especially visual, and which tend towards the latter – ceramics that are art in their own right. His description – 3-D paintings – is probably the best label though; aptly playful.
The work he’s creating now then – which comes after 50 years’ experience – could be described as post-modern, as it has been frequently. His use of colour and form is highly creative and original, the end result is something quite surreal and a bit tongue-in-cheek, something almost visceral and bodily, yet with a real sense of play to be discovered. In an array of finishes and colours – shiny and with hand-painted features, gold-flecked glazes, bold, fluid tones and effects – the ceramics play with the perception of space, tricking the eye and appearing as if multiple things and perhaps nothing at all.
There’s a strong link to architecture here too – which is no wonder, an artist inspired by his environment – “whether it’s the architecture that I grew up with or images that I’ve seen in the streets,” as he says, and his pieces often get compared to architectural models. Combine that with a good sense of humour and sensibility that is geared toward trying out new idea, the ceramics understandably get their ‘post-modern’ descriptor – and we have to admit, Gaudí most certainly springs to mind.
But whatever we see in Nagle’s work, it’s seems neither here nor there to him. He might have been “inventing Post-Modernism years before it became fashionable,” as Executive Director at The San Diego Museum of Art says, but for him, he’s making because he wants to – creating ceramics that are somehow edgy and odd, sophisticated and beautiful. “The bottom line is,” he says, “the greatest thrill for me is making stuff…if other people like what I do, all the better”.