San Francisco

Ron Nagle

As a second-generation California ceramist, Ron Nagle’s small, intricately glazed vestigial cups are most closely related to the works of Ken Price. However, Nagle moves beyond restatement or imitation to create highly original pieces that are rich in nuance and form. The “Yama” series, from which the nine pieces on exhibition were selected, is inspired by Japanese Momoyama ware, a style noted for its looseness, texture and emotional feel. In his use of deliberately sensual and unanticipated color, Nagle, nevertheless, shows equal consideration for a palette often associated with southern California.

Since the early 1960s Nagle has explored the cup form, first with floral shapes and then in an architectonic style. The “Yama” works are slightly skew cylindrical forms based on a parallelogram, which have a gestural impact and upward thrust. The cup elements—handles and bases—are apparent, but they have evolved almost beyond recognition into abstract shapes. The pieces are small, from 4 to 6 inches high. The installation of these objects, in glass cases or on tall pedestals, emphasizes the profile, and disguises the utilitarian aspect by placing the openings out of sight.

Nagle’s glazing technique often involved 20 or 30 glazes and coats of china paint applied by hand or airbrush. Each cup exhibits the same configuration; a rectangle with four small square holes and outline, floating on a translucent field of color. The rectangle and surrounding area, alternating between a smooth and a stucco-like finish, suggests a minute action painting. The salmon pink, turquoise blue, pale orange and lime green hues evoke pop culture, giving these pieces a contemporary jolt. The glazes function not only as surface; in some pieces the overglazing forms a dripped edge that emphasizes the distinction between the handbuilt form and applied surface. The precision of these objects is immensely satisfying. The surface motif and off-beat color combine with an understated humor that plays off art historical form and cultural inference with sophistication and wit.

Hal Fischer