Ron Nagle is known for his intimately scaled sculptures made of ceramic elements that are slip-cast, fired, and embellished with epoxy and other synthetic materials that allow him to expand his forms beyond the limits of clay. Some are glazed to a hot-rod finish, others textured like stucco and then airbrushed. Despite the work’s three-dimensionality, Nagle explains, “everything is done, even subconsciously, from a flat point of view.”
Nagle began working with ceramics during the 1950s as a high school student. In 1961 he apprenticed to the pioneering ceramic artist Peter Voulkos at the University of California, Berkeley, and later exhibited his work alongside Voulkos, Ken Price, and other innovative West Coast artists working in clay. His work is inspired by such artists as Giorgio Morandi, Phillip Guston, and George Herriman, and by such varied forms as Japanese Momoyama ceramics and Hawaiian funerary monuments. This merging of incongruous elements also extends to his titles, which are loaded with puns and wordplay: Centaur of Attention (2014), for example, or Beirut Canal (2009). “I’m trying to create a hybrid,” he explains. “You can’t quite put your finger on it.”
Ron Nagle (b. 1939) was born in San Francisco, where he currently lives and works. His first one-person exhibition took place in 1968, and since then he has had exhibitions at numerous museums, including the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Secession in Vienna, and the Fridericianum in Kassel. In 2013 his work was included in the exhibition “The Encyclopedic Palace” at the 55th Venice Biennale. Nagle is also a musician, and a deluxe edition of his acclaimed 1970 album Bad Rice was released on Omnivore Recordings in 2015. “Ron Nagle: Handsome Drifter,” a survey of the past twenty years of his work, is on view at the Berkeley Art Museum through March 28, 2021.