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Gail Nichols

Gail Nichols
Artist's statement

Gail Nichols makes generously rounded, eccentric vessels, thrown and manipulated, with lush dimpled surfaces, inviting tactile as well as visual responses. The vessels' surfaces have evolved through years of technical research with soda glazing, along with the development of materials and processes, and investigation of glaze microstructure. The research was undertaken in order to satisfy a curiosity that was largely aesthetic; a desire to work directly with clay and fire, and to achieve close integration of form and surface. The subtle interplay of technique, materials and aesthetics is an essential part of Nichols' practice. Arriving at an acceptable balance between knowledge, intuition and uncertainty is a continuing, yet exciting challenge.

Research into the atmospheric dynamics of the soda vapour glazing process led to Nichols' completion of a PhD at Monash University in 2002. Her method of vaporising a solid plaster-like soda mixture in the kiln's firebox eliminates the need for spray apparatus, and encourages directional effects as the soda vapour moves with the flame, leaving its marks on clay surfaces. Exterior surfaces are not glazed or slipped prior to firing as glaze is created during the firing, through interaction of flame and soda vapour with exposed clay surfaces. Nichols has developed special high alumina clay bodies which allow active engagements of clay and soda vapour and promote the development of a unique icy matt glaze. Use of high alumina bodies has led her away from the thin glaze effects commonly found in soda glaze work, towards another aesthetic in which a rich flowing glaze interacts with and softens the form. The opaque crystalline whiteness creates a visual impression of snow and ice moving glacially over the surface. A wide palette of colours including red, yellow, blue-green, mauve, grey and black are achieved through control of atmosphere during firing and cooling, responding to form and flame movements.

Nichols is intrigued by the sculptural contrast between open and closed forms, along with firing effects on exposed and shadowed clay surfaces. She enjoys playing with impressions of volume and movement. Some forms are seemingly stretched from the inside out and blown up like a balloon, while others appear to dance in slow graceful curves or lively waves. For the past seven years she has lived and worked at the foot of Mt. Budawang near Braidwood NSW. Moving from a Sydney urban environment to a 120 acre rural property highlighted her sense of space, and consequently, of form. It is not surprising that the gently curved yet rugged terrain of the Budawang range is reflected in the forms and surfaces of her work. Nichols' aim as an artist is simply to create beautiful objects; not just pretty things to look at, but a powerful beauty that quietly overwhelms, revealing something beyond the ordinary.

Like Gail's work? You can buy a gift card!

Recent work
The Mountain Blew Back
  • The Mountain Blew Back, 2013
  • Soda vapour glazed stoneware
  • Dimensions: 36 x 44 x 44 cm
  • Photo: Michel Brouet
Red Hill
  • Red Hill, 2012
  • soda vapour glazed stoneware
  • Dimensions: 35 x 17 x 17 cm
  • Photo: Michel Brouet
Fire and Rain
  • Fire and Rain, 2012
  • soda vapour glazed stoneware
  • Dimensions: 23 x 24 x 21cm
  • Photo: Michel Brouet
Red Dawn
  • Red Dawn, 2012
  • soda vapour glazed stoneware
  • Dimensions: 18 x 34 x 30 cm
  • Photo: Michel Brouet

Cloud Drift
  • Cloud Drift, 2015
  • soda vapour glazed stoneware
  • Dimensions: 10 x 40 x 40cm
  • Photo: Michel Brouet
Sky Battle
  • Sky Battle, 2013
  • soda vapour glazed stoneware
  • Dimensions: 36 x 40 x 39 cm
  • Photo: Michel Brouet

Like Gail's work? You can buy a gift card!


Gail Nichols is an Australian ceramic artist, recognized internationally for her innovative approach to soda glazing. Through extensive research, leading to completion of a PhD at Monash University in 2002, Nichols developed her unique vapour glaze aesthetic and technical approach to materials and firing.

Nichols makes vessels with soft organic forms and lush dimpled glazes that appear to ooze out of the clay itself. Her book, Soda Clay and Fire, published by the American Ceramic Society, has been heralded as a leading text on soda vapour glazing technique and aesthetics.

Nichols was born in the USA in 1953. She completed a mechanical engineering degree at Michigan State University in 1976, and worked as a Peace Corps volunteer on an irrigation project in Malaysia before emigrating to Australia, where she began her ceramic studies in Sydney. Her studio is now located on a rural property near Braidwood, New South Wales. She teaches at the School of Art, Australian National University in Canberra.

Selected exhibitions
2014:   Skepsi @ Malvern, Malvern Artists Society Gallery - Melbourne
2014:   Terroir, The Jam Factory at Seppeltsfield - Seppeltsfield, SA
2014:   Quiet Conversations, Skepsi @ Montsalvat, The Barn Gallery - Monsalvat, VIC
2014:   Crawling Through Mud: Australian Ceramics and the Japanese Tradition, Shepparton Art Museum - Shepparton, VIC
2013:   Atmosphere (solo) , Narek Galleries - Tanja, NSW
2013:   One Foot on the Black, Kerrie Lowe Gallery - Sydney
2013:   Vessel as Metaphor, Drill Hall Gallery ANU - Canberra
2013:   Round the Mountain (solo), Sabbia Gallery - Sydney
2013:   PRIMA, Sabbia Gallery - Sydney
2012:   Artist Made for Christmas, Skepsi Gallery/Malvern Artists Society - Melbourne
2012:   Gail Nichols New Soda (solo), POTS Gallery - Seattle, WA
2012:   Engaging Form, The Barn Gallery - Monsalvat, Vic
2012:   Signature, Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre - Canberra
2012:   Teabowls and Sake Cups: A Kindred Spirit, Lacoste Gallery - Concord, Mass.
2011:   Reflections (solo), Studio Altenburg Gallery - Braidwood, NSW
2011:   Elements: Clay, Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre - Canberra
2011:   Material Matters, Australian National University - Canberra
2011:   Ewers, Pitchers, Jugs & Jars, Narek Galleries - Tanja, NSW
2010:   Shades of Mass and Form, Sabbia Gallery - Sydney
2007:   Exhibition, Skepsi on Swanston Gallery - Melbourne
Selected commissions/awards/grants
2009:   5th World Ceramic Beinnale Korea International Competition: Honorable Mention
2007:   4th World Ceramic Biennale Korea International Competition: Bronze Prize
2007:   NCECA Clay National Biennial Exhibition USA Gas Kiln Award
2007:   Ceramics Technical Award, ClayEdge conference, Gulgong NSW
2005:   City of Hobart Art Prize: Highly Commended
2003:   2nd World Ceramic Biennale Korea International Competition: Honorable Mention
2003:   Gold Coast International Ceramic Competition: Acquisition
2002:   Orton Cone Box Show, USA Purchase Award
2001:   Port Hacking Potters Competition, NSW, 2nd Major Award (Ceramic Supply Company Award); 1st in Open Wheelthrown.
1999:   Sidney Myer Fund International Ceramics Competition, Shepparton Victoria: Special Acquisition
Selected publications
2014:   Taylor, B. and Doody, K., Glaze: The Ultimate Ceramic Artist’s Guide to Glaze and Color, Quarto Publishing, London, pp.122-123.
2014:   Pryor, S., Capital Life, The Canberra Times, Panorama, 18 Jan, p.16
2014:   ARTS banner, The Canberra Times, 14 Jan, p. 6
2013:   Cousins, K-A., Five of the Best, The Canberra Times, 28 Dec
2013:   Webb, P., Feat of Clay within Stone’s Throw: Crawling Through Mud at Shepparton Art Museum,, The Age, 20 Dec.
2013:   Fortescue, E., From Fighting Fire to Painting with Flames: One Foot in the Black,, The Telegraph, 14 Oct, Entertainment p. 27.
2013:   Cousins, K-A., Ceramics to Fire the Imagination, Canberra Times Arts. 8 May p6
2012:   Cousins, K-A., Crafty Fusion of Spanish Gastronomy and ACT Art, The Canberra Times Arts Review, 11 Aug, p.19
2012:   Haynes, P., Elements: Clay, Craft Arts International no. 84.
2012:   Haynes, P., Elements: Clay, Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre
2011:   P. Haynes, Elements: clay, Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre
2006:   Soda, Clay and Fire, excerpts from the book, Ceramics Monthly 54
2006:   American Ceramic Society, Soda, Clay and Fire, 160 page book based on PhD research
2005:   Something of Value, The Log Book, Issue 24
2003:   Owen Rye, Reconnaissance: New Work, Ceramics Art and Perception, No. 52
2002:   Expanding the Mystery, Ceramics Monthly 50
2001:   Atmosphere: It's a Gas, Pottery in Australia 41
2000:   Colour and Ice: Atmospheric Effects in Soda Glazing, Ceramics Technical, No. 10
1999:   Charting New Paths with Soda, Ceramics Technical, No. 10


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