Master ceramicist and singer-songwriter Ron Nagle claims to have little patience. But to anyone familiar with the painstakingly rendered, diminutive forms he has become best known for over the last three decades, impatience seems an unlikely quality to ascribe the San Francisco artist.
“Yes, it does take an amazing amount of patience, which, if you ask anybody — particularly my wife — I have none of. Except when I’m in here,” Nagle says as he works in his studio.
Nagle apprenticed with the late ceramic artist and UC Berkeley professor Peter Voulkos and was further influenced by the work of renowned ceramicist Ken Price and the Italian painter Giorgio Morandi. Nagle often applies bold colors, which are inspired by the 1950s hot rods of his youth, to his ceramic vessels and abstract forms. Achieving the deep, rich hues and painterly mingling of colors that characterize his work can require each piece to undergo firing 10 times — and often many more.
When he’s not consumed with clay, Nagle’s talents play out in an entirely different kind of studio. Since the late 1960s, Nagle has achieved steady — if under-the-radar — acclaim for his music. He has been in two different bands, the Durocs and the Mystery Trend, and has put out a solo album, Bad Rice. He also has written songs recorded by the likes of Barbra Streisand, Jefferson Airplane and the Tubes. As Spark catches up with him, Nagle is hard at work on his first new album in 30 years, with songwriting partner Scott Mathews.
And although the mediums with which Nagle works and the worlds within which he works may be separate, his goal for both is the same. “I just want to perpetuate the things that I’ve been moved by and that I love, and, in turn, I want to do something and hope that something I make will blow somebody’s mind,” he says.
A teacher at Mills College since 1978, Ron Nagle is currently the Joan Danforth Faculty Chair and head of the school’s studio art department. He is the recipient of two Mellon Grants and multiple fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, among other awards. His work can be found in the private collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Shigaraki Museum of Contemporary Ceramic Art in Japan.