Ron Nagle at Garth Clark
The words I associate with Ron Nagle’s sculptures are: Bay Area, Finish Fetish, tiny, ceramic and cup. For decades, Nagle has toyed with the conventions of the cup, pushing the form to the point of abstraction, retaining it perhaps merely as a carrier for his multiple layers of perfect, brilliant glaze colors. These hues provide the only hint of the artist’s other life as a pop musician and composer.
His new works shown at Garth Clark offered several sharp surprises: they are bigger–up to 11 inches tall–and they are nearly figurative. Most of the 10 objects (all 2003) take off from a snuffbottle or perfume-bottle form. They are heart shaped at the top with a little neck and hemispherical cap in the cleft. Some are wide-shouldered, assuming a cartoonishly masculine air, while others play a diminutive heartshaped “bodice” against a long “skirt” for a kind of Gay Nineties feminine silhouette. Whatever the particulars of form–some smoothly rounded, others sharply joined fronts and backs–all have sensuously glossy surfaces that flow like a thick liquid down to a raised, rippled edge. Below that is a contrasting matte, pebbly finish (often gray) and below that, discoverable only with close looking, is a thin, recessed base of a slightly different color that lifts the main form a quarter inch or so above the pedestal.
This combination is still typically Nagle: obsessive perfection of surface and construction combined with eye-popping colors. Whimsical titles loosen things up. In The Puddle of Love (5 1/4, high by 7 1/2 inches in diameter), a black stopper tops the dentalappliance-pink body that ends in a raised edge like ocean foam, with the white of this contour given shadow and weight by a thin “seepage” of deep red on its lowest extremes. The two-sided form sits on a circular gray base. The expansive Flat Bastard (7 1/4 by 13 1/2 by 3 inches) suggests a steam iron wearing Mickey Mouse ears. The stopper is red, the body moss green and the drip edge white with lavender along the bottom. The sub-base is a sliver of golden orange. Tweety (6 by 11 by 3 1/2 inches) is obviously named for the cartoon bird of the same color, and its top profile almost sheds its heart identification to big shoulders. Below the low waist of the form, the sunshine yellow turns peachy, then white with sparkles along the pronounced drip edge that has a blue-gray shadow. The underbase here is bright red.
With these works, Nagle fully abandons the central void of the cup to make something more like a solidified image–still small, and still so intensely colored that it seems to have the power-potential of a fuse.
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