Ron Nagle

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Ron Nagle
Born (1939-02-21) February 21, 1939 (age 80)
NationalityUnited States
EducationB.F.A., San Francisco State College, 1961
Known forSculpture
AwardsArts and Letters Award
American Craft Council Fellowship
National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship
Ron Nagle, Untitled, glazed and overglazed earthenware, c. 1970, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Ron Nagle (born February 21, 1939) is an American sculptor, musician and songwriter.[1][2] He is known for small-scale, refined sculptures of great detail and compelling color.

Nagle lives and works in San Francisco, California.[1]


Born in San Francisco in 1939, Nagle was introduced to ceramics by his mother at an early age. He practiced ceramics in high school and developed an interest in jewelry-making which he pursued into his college years. Nagle enrolled as an English major at San Francisco State College, but later switched to the school's BFA, and graduated with a focus in ceramics in 1961.

Between 1961 and 1978, Nagle taught ceramics at San Francisco Art Institute, California College of Arts and Crafts, as well as at the University of California Berkeley, where he apprenticed to Peter Voulkos, a core member of the Abstract Expressionist Ceramics. In 1978, Nagle began a professorship at Mills College, where he taught ceramics for over 30 years.

His involvement in West Coast culture—surfing, rock music, hot rod culture—is integral to both his art and music. Nagle owned a 1948 Ford Coupe to which he applied 40 coats of British racing green, sanding between each layer to achieve depth of color.[3] This same fanaticism is evident in the detailed color and texture of his sculptures.


Ron Nagle has practiced ceramics for over 50 years. He has worked extensively with the typology of the vessel—specifically the cup—and pushed through the utilitarian concerns of traditional craft into formal consideration of the medium. His small-scale, intimately sized sculptures are often composite of multiple elements and involve a confluence of techniques and materials including slip-casting, airbrushing, hand-molding, traditional and non-traditional glazing, scalp-metal, polyurethane, wax, and epoxy.[4]

Drawing is fundamental to Nagle's practice, and he considers his work from a two-dimensional, flat point of view. This resonates with his stated interest in painting, where he cites influences such as Giorgio Morandi, Cy Twombly, and Billy Al Bengston.[5]

His work is associated with the California Clay Movement, and Nagle is often included in exhibitions concerning Abstract Expressionism.[3] Although Nagle has shied away from association with the traditional craft of ceramics, he has noted the influence of his contemporary sculptors working in the medium, such as Kenneth Price, as well as such vernaculars as Japanese Momoyama ceramics and 1940s American restaurant ware. Nagle also looks further, mining uncanny sources such as cartoons, graffiti, food arrangement and fashion for inspiration.[6]


Apart from his sculpture, Ron Nagle is also a musician and songwriter. In 1965, he founded the “San Francisco Sound” rock’n’roll band The Mystery Trend with a group of friends while at the San Francisco Art Institute. Nagle has also completed several solo albums, including Bad Rice that was released by Warner Bros. in 1970.

Ron Nagle also worked on the sound effects for The Exorcist (1973). The artist magnified and distorted sounds of jar-trapped bees and shattering windows to create disturbing effects in the horror film.[3]

His love of wordplay expressed in his lyrics is evident in the pun-laden and darkly humorous titles Nagle gives to his artworks.


Ron Nagle’s first solo exhibition was in 1968 at Dilexi Gallery in San Francisco. Since then, his work has been exhibited extensively, including solo exhibitions at the Saint Louis Art Museum, Carnegie Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Art, and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

Thirty of Nagle’s ceramics were included in the exhibition “The Encyclopedic Palace,” curated by Massimiliano Gioni for the 55th Venice Biennale.[2]

Grants and awards[edit]

Arts and Letters Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters

Joan Danforth Endowed Faculty Chair, Mills College

Metz Chair, Mills College

Flintridge Foundation Visual Artist Award
The Best of 1998, Dave Hickey, Artforum

Fellow of the American Craft Council

Joan Danforth Endowed Faculty Chair, Mills College

Faculty Research Grant, Mills College

National Endowments for the Arts Fellowship

Faculty Research Grant, Mills College

Mellon Grant

Mellon Grant

Lucie Stern Chair, Mills College
National Endowments for the Arts Fellowship

Adaline Kent Award, San Francisco Art Institute

National Endowments for the Arts Fellowship


  1. ^ a b "Ron Nagle, 'baron of sculptural intelligence,' works with the groove of small things". SFGate. 2004-01-16. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
  2. ^ a b Art in America Magazine
  3. ^ a b c Ruby, Sterling. "Custom Clay." Kaleidoscope. Fall 2011, pp. 44-49.
  4. ^ Whitney, Kathleen. "San Diego: Ron Nagle - San Diego Museum of Art." Sculpture. December 23, 2014.
  5. ^ Kelly, Jeff. "Ron Nagle." Art in America. May 1994, pp. 125-126.
  6. ^ Morgan, Susan. "Proenza Schouler + Ron Nagle." W Magazine. December 2014 - January 2015, p. 66, p. 68.

External links[edit]