Chris Nagle met Derek Oliver the same way a lot of people do — the two were standing in an unfinished kitchen where unconventional countertops were under discussion.
Outside his Provincetown shop, Outermost Home, Nagle, who lives in Truro, is a designer. Other than his art projects (which include a large sculpture of cantilevered floating slabs on the lawn at PAAM), Oliver is a concrete guy.
“That kitchen counter he did for an Eastham cottage I was working on near Fort Hill made me understand what concrete can be,” says Nagle. He still remembers overhearing Oliver’s advice to a home owner on the question of how to maintain concrete: “ ‘Let it go,’ he said. ‘Let it develop a patina, cracks, even. Think about the stone in Europe, the way it has gotten more beautiful with time.’ ”
The counter had the kind of qualities Nagle looks for in pieces he brings into his shop. “Colors that evoke this place, like what you see right here out the window,” he says. And material that has been “deeply worked,” as he puts it, by hand. Oliver has a way with concrete, bringing out textures and contrasts between matte and polish that make his pieces seem almost soft to the touch.
But after watching Oliver lift the counter slabs into place, Nagle started trying to talk him into creating smaller pieces — things people might take home from his shop. For a while, the answer was just “no.”
“It’s not really practical to cast small pieces,” Oliver says. “But Chris is a friend. So eventually I figured out I could make pieces with small amounts of concrete left over at the end of a casting.”
Thick squares of concrete with smooth circular indentations are now on display at Outermost. In Nagle’s shop, they cradle business cards or a set of keys. Or nothing. “I see the square and circle as pure forms,” says Oliver. “They’re whatever you want them to be, but for me they’re just about those pure forms.”
The experience of working on a smaller scale held some unexpected pleasures for Oliver. “The pieces I cast normally have to be very precise,” he explained. They have to fit together exactly. Or satisfy a color idea. “Doing a successful casting is all about controlling the variables. It’s all about fighting for control,” he says. “But these pieces allow me to work in a freer, looser way. I can just add some pigment to the leftover concrete and see how people respond.”
Until mid-May, Chris Nagle opens Outermost by appointment.