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Price ÂŁ10



NIC COLLINS The Hard-Won Art

David Whiting

goldmark 2014

Nic Collins: The Hard-Won Art

It strikes me as odd, to say the least, that potters are sometimes regarded as people who have ‘opted out’ of the modern world, even, I have heard it said, ‘real life’. I can think of few groups of grafters who really put their lives, their livelihoods on the line as potters do, particularly those who choose to do it the hard way, like Nic Collins. I grew up with this experience, the son of a potter who had to maintain an income, to support a family in what he amusingly described as a state of ‘sophisticated squalor’, balancing these concerns with that of running a production workshop and the regular firing of a coal and wood monster. He loved it of course, but the price, both economically and to his mental health, was high. One year, in the 1960s, he had several disastrous firings in succession and we nearly went under. For most potters there are no assured sales, no automatic salary cheques at the end of the month (the support that Goldmark Gallery gives to its artists is exceptional). The risks and challenges for those who choose to take the Herculean route, with vast quantities of raw materials and large capacity kilns are never ending, the economic and possibly personal costs considerable. Hostages to fortune. Nic Collins is easily one of our most accomplished and dedicated potters, but he too has had his fair share of setbacks in the last couple of years. In 2012 he had a spate of bad firings in his old kiln, then followed by a worse firing in his new one, unable as he was to reach temperature. As he wrote to me later;



‘After five days of firing and burning a huge amount of wood with a very exhausted firing crew, I did a shift without sleep for 32 hours! We just couldn’t push the last 75° c. So all the pots, 2 month’s work, have gone into the ditch as land drainage.’ Of course you can put it down to experience, and whatever the financial and emotional fallout, pots can only improve the more time you spend at the wheel. As Michael Cardew said, the technical problems and challenges endured by potters ultimately contribute to the character and content of what they produce. And while there may be periods of disillusionment, while the comparative certainties of working in an office may suddenly have some appeal, this won’t be for long. The struggles are part of the mix, part of the deal. Nic Collins strikes me as a potter very much in the Cardew mould, much like his Devon neighbours Svend Bayer, Clive Bowen and Doug Fitch are, not so much because of the particular character of his own work, but because of the way he goes about it. There are no compromises or shortcuts. And it is certainly true that the experience of its making – both good and bad – has been sublimated into things of beauty and what Cardew called ‘kindness’, a humanity, a softness of execution which gives Collins a special place in contemporary pottery. Where there is, alas, an excessive hardness in current studio practice, too little ‘give’ in the


forms, too little tactility (what, after all, differentiates pottery from most other mediums), these objects are particularly sensitive and generous. To think of Collins’ sophisticated pots only in terms of the ‘rugged’ aesthetic that comes with this brand of wood firing is to underestimate their true qualities of relaxed precision, his particular insights into the materials and processes he uses. It was from such perception that the mysteries of Cardew’s own pottery derived, a depth of practice (not in his case always technically strong, but to worry too much about this is often to miss the point of a good pot), a sense and spirit of history which Collins’ work also has. Collins’ pieces obviously relate more to specifically Japanese traditions than to Cardew’s sense of an English-African lineage, but they have a distinctly native personality too, made by a Midlander, now based on the edge of Dartmoor, and rooted just as much in English and other European forms. I am thinking of medieval earthenware and 17th century saltglaze stoneware, but also the concision of post-industrial utility pots. Collins’ jugs are an obvious case in point, their tall narrow cylinders, prominent throwing rings and crisply accented lips have a strong feeling for 14th century economy and directness, missing in some of the more self-consciously elaborate homages to medieval pitchers. There is a modern simplicity about his baluster and north Devon big-bellied shapes, yet still with enough loose rein to keep



the clay fresh and energised. The bottles and jars vary greatly in form, but remind us of the best early brown saltglaze, both from Rhineland Germany and John Dwight’s Fulham. There are bellarmine-type bottles and jars, some with handles, that have a colonial North American quality too, while his practical lidded jars with sprigged handles, clean and unfussy, can sit proudly in the English functional language. His tableware – smaller jugs, teapots, cups and so forth – are not only well designed but possess just the right weight in the hand, have just the right thickness, their surfaces warm with soft ochres and oranges from the kiln. Some of his small bottles could be ash-accreted elaborations of 19th and early 20th century saltglaze jars, not simply nods to Iga and Shigaraki. This synthesis in Nic Collins is important to appreciate. Smaller narrow-necked bottles, cylindrical and flared bowls and powerful Bizen-like big jars carry a more Oriental heritage, but one still clearly filtered through a native sensibility and a dependence on the West Country materials at hand. They emanate from Collins’ particular methods, his own way of throwing and turning and pacing his kick wheel, his manner of placing pots in the kiln. And it is there in his individual detail; prominent shell and wadding scars become important components of form on small bottles, and Collins’ particular combinations of Shino and celadon with fly-ash are both complex and beautiful.



I come back to the generous malleability of Nic Collins’ clay. The relaxation of his roulette-decorated dishes (some of them in soft porcelain) with their roughly improvised lug-like handles and creamy glazes epitomise the seductive freedom and expression (as distinct from self-expression, which is something quite different) of his art. It has a particular physicality generated by the ‘muscular system’ as Patrick Heron called it, the ability to animate clay in pots one really wants to own. David Whiting March 2014





67. Round Bottomed Bowl Shino & natural ash glaze 11.0 x 24.0 cm front cover 124. Teabowl Meeth clay 10.0 x 13.0 cm frontispiece 7. Tall Bottle Shino & natural ash glaze 98.5 x 18.5 cm back cover 83. Tall Necked Bottle Natural ash glaze 40.0 x 14.0 cm



58. Bottle Vase Natural ash glaze. Red & grey reduction colours 33.5 x 23.0 cm



47. Lidded Jar Natural ash glaze 24.5 x 19.5 cm next page right 1. Large Dish From the firebox. Natural ash glaze. Grey & red reduction colours 5.0 x 96.0 cm All pots photographed in Hambleton Hall hotel gardens, March 2014





80. Bowl Slab built & thrown. Shino glaze 11.0 x 37.0 cm



24. Oval Slab Bottle Reduced shino glaze & ash 43.0 x 28.5 cm



3. Large Jar with Handles Ash glaze 78.0 x 60.0 cm next page left 12. Tall Jug Natural ash glaze 58.5 x 16.5 cm next page right 10. Tall Jug Natural ash glaze 61.5 x 15.5 cm





52. Small Bowl Celadon glaze 6.0 x 25.5 cm



30. Large Devon Type Jug Shino & natural ash glaze 41.0 x 25.5 cm



71. Round Bottomed Bowl Shino & natural ash glaze 14.5 x 31.0 cm next page left 6. Tall Bottle Shino & natural ash glaze 96.5 x 18.5 cm next page right 9. Tall Bottle Orange shino & ash glaze 98.0 x 20.0 cm





59. Bellarmine Type Bottle Natural ash glaze 32.5 x 22.0 cm



22. Vase Stacked on seashells. Natural ash glaze Fired under side stoke hole 31.0 x 27.0 cm



73. Lidded Jar Slab built & thrown. Shino glaze & ash 17.0 x 21.0 cm next page right 2. Large Dish From the firebox. Natural ash glaze. Grey & red reduction colours 5.0 x 112.0 cm





18. Jar From the firebox. Meeth red clay. Stacked on seashells. Natural ash glaze 41.0 x 36.5 cm



129. Bottle Vase Natural ash glaze 25.0 x 11.0 cm



92. Vase Meeth clay. Gold shino 21.0 x 8.0 cm next page left 56. Bottle Vase Celadon glaze with ash. Inscribed design 34.5 x 23.0 cm next page right 32. Medieval Inspired Jug Sprigs. Reduced natural ash glaze 35.0 x 17.0 cm





21. Vase Stacked on seashells. Natural ash glaze Fired under side stoke hole 27.0 x 26.0 cm



170. 171. 167. Guinomi Porcelain with celadon inside 6.0 x 7.5 cm next page left 136. Bottle Vase Orange shino & natural ash glaze 19.0 x 12.0 cm next page right 165. Guinomi Meeth clay 7.0 x 9.0 cm





Biography 1958

Born in Leamington Spa


Stratford College


Derby Art School: HND Studio Ceramics


Workshop experience in Italy and Germany


Powdermills Pottery, Postbridge, Dartmoor, founder and owner


Personal workshop in Moretonhampstead, Devon

Recent Exhibitions Amalgam Gallery


Harlequin Gallery


Besson Gallery


Ombersley Gallery


Cothele Gallery

Cornwall (National Trust)

Roundhouse Gallery

Tudbury, Derby

Gnarly Dudes Exhibition Devon (Dartmoor) International Anagama Exhibition


Fellow member of the Craftsmen Potters Association Full Member of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen Winner of the ‘Art in Clay’ Peers Award 1999, Hatfield Best potter in show award Krefeld 2002 Awarded research grant from South West Arts 2002 Winner of the ‘Art in Clay’ Peers Award 2004, Hatfield Honorable Mention in Vasefinder International 2011

49. Large Dish Celadon glaze 9.0 x 39 cm



Text: © David Whiting 2014 Photographs: © Jay Goldmark Design: Porter / Goldmark

ISBN 978-1-909167-10-0 01572 821424

Goldmark Gallery, Uppingham, Rutland, LE15 9SQ 64

With thanks to Tim Hart at Hambleton Hall hotel for allowing us to photograph in the gardens.


goldmark 66

Nic Collins - The Hard-Won Art  
Nic Collins - The Hard-Won Art  

Catalogue to accompany Nic Collins' 2014 pottery exhibition at Goldmark Gallery.