Johannes Nagel Biography

Johannes Nagel is a contemporary German ceramicist renowned for his unconventional vases that, rather than serving any functional purpose, examine the traditions and processes of ceramic as an art form.

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Born in the German city of Jena in 1979, Johannes Nagel had received extensive training in ceramic arts by the late 2000s. In 2001, he apprenticed as a potter under the celebrated Canada-based Japanese potter Kinya Ishikawa in the Quebec mountain village of Val-David.

From 2002 to 2008, Nagel studied fine arts and ceramics with Antje Scharfe, Karl Fulle, and Martin Neubert at the Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in the German city of Halle—an institution he later returned to teach at between 2012 and 2017. In 2005 and 2006, during his studies, Nagel also became artist-in-residence at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park in Japan.

Since graduating with a fine art ceramics diploma in 2008, Johannes Nagel has operated a studio in Halle. From the outset, Nagel's practice has focused on the processes and traditions relating to vessels, which he distils to a singular form in his vases. For Nagel, ceramics are a means to understand object-based traditions.

Working with various techniques—including hand-building, collage, throwing, and sand-casting—Nagel creates works that express the processes and materiality of pottery.

Across his works, one finds contrasts of texture highlighting clay's versatility; soft or rough on the surface, with edges that can be smooth, angular, or brittle. Nagel deliberately leaves fissures and gaps between components, carving into those components to break the profile of the vase, while glazes are applied discordantly, leaving unpainted areas that confound the established lines of the work.

Spontaneity has been a defining theme of the artists' work. Johannes Nagel's 'Free Jazz' (2008) works—a series of cylindrical, core-like vessels bearing irregular and torn clay blades—reference the improvisation and riffing off concrete rhythms seen in jazz music.

For many of his works, Nagel has embraced the low-tech, highly instinctive sand-cast technique, which involves excavating hollow spaces in sand with his hands and then pouring plaster into them. Unable to see the surface of these creations against the sand, Nagel has to rely on his hands, resulting in spontaneous assertions, as seen in his 'Excavation' works. The difference between the expected form and the result presents what the artist has described as 'sculptural unsharpness.'

Johannes Nagel's ceramics have been exhibited widely, in solo and group shows, across Europe and Britain as well as in an international array of art fairs. His works appear in several prominent public collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Geneva's Museum Ariana, Keramion in Frechen, Germany; and Keramiekmuseum Princessehof in the Dutch city of Leeuwarden.

As well as several stipends, scholarships, and artist residencies, Nagel has been awarded the Frechen Ceramic Art Award (2009), the Naspa Ceramics Award (2016), and the Westerwald Prize (2019).

Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020

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