Ron Nagle - Shape & Space: A New Ceramic Presence London Thursday, October 4, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Garth Clark Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2005

  • Exhibited

    San Francisco, Rena Bransten Gallery, Ron Nagle: Smallfry and Wedgeware series, 26 July - 20 August 2005
    New York, George Adams Gallery, Ron Nagle / George Ohr: Look Closer, Look Again, 8 May - 25 July 2014

  • Literature

    Ron Nagle and Jana Martin, Ron Nagle, Arlington, 2010, pl. 43 (a similar example illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Rebel Forms and Pop Motivation

    The banality and rush of contemporary life dissolves in front of Ron Nagle’s diminutive and intimate sculpted vessels, whose confectionary colours, blistered textures, and complex layers demand you make room for quiet contemplation. Since the 1960s, Nagle’s appropriative and eclectic aesthetic language, in addition to his humorous deconstruction of functionality, has helped place him among the most preeminent Postmodern ceramists. Nagle emerged from the West Coast school of California ceramists during the late 1950s, which questioned traditional boundaries between fine art and craft. He began working with clay at San Francisco State University, but quickly became familiar with the principles taught by maverick ceramist Peter Voulkos at the Otis College of Art and Design and UC Berkeley in the 1950s and 60s. Inspired by Voulkos, Nagle and his fellow students rebelled against traditional ceramics by creating works that reflected the free-form playfulness and exuberance of Abstract Expressionism (see Voulkos’s vase, lot 65, in the present sale). A turning point in Nagle’s career came when he began using low-fired earthenware, which was a direct rejection of conventional high-fired stoneware. Low-fired earthenware and china paint overglazes enabled him to have more control over his intricate and repetitive glazing process and increased the amount of times he could fire one piece.

    Whilst Nagle’s work can be connected to abstract high art, he is perhaps more interested in experimenting with the parlance of popular culture. Using a compressor and airbrush, he approached his small objects with the grandiosity of industrial automobile detailing. By taping and spraying his works between firings he created multiple layers of glaze, which ranged from the most vibrant primary colours to subtle, earthy hues – all characteristics that can be found in Schtub from Nagle’s ‘Small Fry’ series. As much a ceramist as he is a musician (he created the sound effects to the 1973 horror film The Exorcist, wrote songs for Barbra Streisand, and produced his acclaimed album Bad Rice in 1971, to name only some of his musical accomplishments) Nagle has compared the recording studio technique of overdubbing (layering fragments of music and voice) with his process of overglazing. Nagle’s tangible works can never be separated conceptually from his creative process as a musician and Schtub is no exception. The work is a collision of marred and glassy textures. Airbrushed blushes of pigment create surfaces with inner luminosity that resemble the mottled face of Mars in some areas and frosty powdered sugar in others. This roughness is countered by a smooth black triangle along the work’s side and a gleaming red bottom, which emulate the lacquered sheen of a hot-rod. The shape of Schtub is a classic Naglean form: the inverted mirrored cones with a vertical connecting plane is simultaneously elegant and goofy, as though a cylindrical cup was subjected to a squeeze at the waist.

    The previous lot, Tail Dragger is a hand-built, gestural form. A characteristically playful piece, Nagle created Tail Dragger as a sardonic and mischievous comment on the art world’s obsession with the hand-wrought. Because Nagle dances on the fence between traditional craft and radical sculpture he has been coached by critics aligned with conventional craft ceramics to abandon his more abstract work, while more avant-garde critics have urged him to turn his cups upside down to erase their function as a vessel for liquid. Tail Dragger seems to play both sides. As one gets closer and looks into the work it becomes apparent that Nagle has removed the bottom of the object, creating an awkward cylinder with a crusty orange growth and smooth red nodule coming off its side, which might be misconstrued at first as handles, but are now confusing protuberances or, shockingly still, tails. Tail Dragger’s dysfunctionality and strange mutability between anthropomorphic form and inanimate object suggests its squat form exists only for itself. However, as is distinctive to Nagle, Tail Dragger’s colour and texture allude to ambiguous memories and experiences. Its pebbled surface resembles San Francisco’s stucco houses while the mossy green and orange colour blocking mimic the controlled designs of record covers and candy wrappers.

    The visual associations tied to Nagle’s objects are as equally mysterious and humourous as their vague, enigmatic titles, which seem to catch and resonate in your head like a song. All joking aside, an astute viewer will recognise the painstaking processes employed by Nagle. While his objects appear improvisational and spontaneous they are in fact the products of labourious planning that requires persistence, stamina, and technical proficiency. These small vessels are packed with meaning and Nagle’s skill ennobles their intimate scale, magnifying their expression as well as his renegade reputation.

    -Margaret J. Schmitz

Property from a Private New York Collection



glazed earthenware
height 9.5 cm (3 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2005.

£12,000 - 16,000 

Sold for £13,750

Contact Specialist
Meaghan Roddy
Senior International Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 267 221 9152 [email protected]

Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

Shape & Space: A New Ceramic Presence

London Auction 5 October 2018