Born in Kalamazoo Michigan, U.S.A. in 1953, Gail Nichols earned a degree in mechanical engineering at Michigan State University, then worked as a Peace Corps volunteer on an irrigation project in northwest Malaysia before moving to Australia in 1978. Her interest in ceramics began as a hobby when her children were young, then progressed to professional work after training at St. George TAFE in Sydney. Her first experiments with soda vapour glazing began in 1989 in her inner-Sydney studio. In 1996 she commenced postgraduate study at Monash University, under supervision of Dr. Owen Rye. Gail’s clay and firing research led to a full-time research candidacy, and she completed a PhD in 2002. She is recognised internationally for her innovative approach to soda glazing, and has published a book on the subject, Soda Clay and Fire (American Ceramic Society, 2006). Gail’s studio is now located on a rural property at Mongarlowe, near Braidwood, New South Wales. She teaches at the ANU School of Art in Canberra, and also regularly teaches workshops in Australia and overseas.
‘I make generously rounded, eccentric vessels, thrown and manipulated, with lush dimpled surfaces inviting tactile as well as visual responses. The surfaces on these vessels have evolved through years of technical research with soda glazing-development of materials and processes, and investigation of glaze microstructure. The research was done 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 my art practice. Arriving at an acceptable balance between knowledge, intuition and uncertainty is a continuing challenge.
I am intrigued by the sculptural contrast between closed and open forms, and firing effects on exposed and shadowed clay surfaces. I enjoy playing with impressions of volume and movement. Some forms are seemingly stretched from the inside out and blown up like a balloon; others appear to dance in slow graceful curves or lively waves. For the past several years I have 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 my sense of space, and consequently, of form. The gently curved yet complex and rugged terrain of the Budawang range is reflected in my fascination with form and its interaction with surface.
My aim as an artist is simply to create beautiful objects: not just pretty things to look at, but a powerful beauty that quietly overwhelms, moves, and reveals some of what human beings are capable of, beyond the ordinariness of existence’.