Isaac Nichols never expected his “fuck you, art school,” ceramics experiment to catch on, but Group Partner has nonetheless become a business that’s way more than a passion project. Thanks to his notorious and seemingly ubiquitous face pots, Isaac’s business has absolutely taken off since 2012. We took a trip to the Group Partner studio to get Isaac’s thoughts on New York City and erotic pottery.
Let’s start with how you founded the company.
I had been in and out of art school for 7 years, and had a job working as a carpenter. After the carpenter job, I got into creative art directing at an interior design firm. I was thinking critically, pushing myself at work, and then getting into my studio after work and trying to be an artist [but] I realized I was working all the time and there was no passion in my life. I started making pots with my friend Alex, just trying to make the most anti-design pots; this “fuck you” to everything I had ever learned. I made one for my girlfriend at the time and I put these breasts on it. I gave it to her, put it on Instagram, and it’s the cliche story of the guy who makes it on Instagram. So I started making more pots, doing flea market sales, and people kept buying them. On the weekend, I’d make like 300 dollars, so then I bought a bunch of equipment off a police auction site. We set that up and it’s insane, we don’t even have a logo.
What do you still enjoy about it?
It was a big shift from this being a way to blow off steam and find enjoyment in my life, to this being a way of paying more than the rent, hiring people—we’re still figuring it out.
Have you gotten any backlash over the boob pots?
I have one funny story: I thought when I started making them that I was waiting for another shoe to drop, and rather than the other shoe dropping, all these people that are feminists reached out and were like, “I love what you’re doing, it’s so cool.” I’m not this feminist activist but my uncle is a super hippie up in New Hampshire, and he’s been making wooden spoons for the last 40 years. I showed him this boob pot, and he’s like, “Oh yeah, there’s always gonna be a niche market for erotica, this reminds me of this guy who used to make wooden vaginas.” I was like, “Cool. Definitely.”
Did you grow up in a creative household?
Yeah. I grew up really, really rural, in Maine. My parents are pretty hippie. I breast fed till I was 5. I didn’t wear clothing till I was like 7. My dad was a leather worker, so I was around leather tools; my mom sewed. It wasn’t a private arts school or anything, we kinda entertained ourselves. We were off the grid.
How do you feel about this space?
The neighborhood is so crazy—all of Williamsburg is so fake right now. There’s just so much money coming in. You’re seeing rent go up from 6,000 dollars a month to 30,000 dollars a month. Condos on both sides, coffee shops that open up—I don’t know where the money comes from; they’re not making money, it’s just kids that wanna be cool and open a coffee shop or a clothing boutique.
Do you think New York is worth it?
We have this conversation all the time; every day we talk about the future. In New York, we’re just a small business trying to squeeze by, but if we moved to upstate New York or New Orleans or Jersey, then maybe we’d have the ability to affect the community and bring jobs and creativity.
So what’s your next art thing?
We’ve been talking about doing a much broader sort of pot company, where instead of buying 6 pots you could buy 30. Trying to be more like the American Apparel of pots. I’ve also been running a gallery space in the basement, and I’m gonna be making 6 large cat towers for cats to play on. One of the greatest things that’s happened since this business took off is it’s given me freedom—I can make the weird creepy stuff I’ve always wanted to make.
What do you think about when you’re making art?
So much of my life has gone into the act of creating; I think it has to do with celebrating life and celebrating your humanness. People are industrious, but if it’s not a celebration, then what is it? Why are you doing it? It trips me out. People are like, “I have to move to NY, I have to have a studio, I have to make art.” And I’m like, “No, you need to go to the beach and chill the fuck out.” If you can’t figure out how to do that, you’re never gonna make anything that’s worth being made. It’s taken me a lot of time to unlearn all these things I was taught in school.
So was art school worth it?
That’s the question of our generation: was art school, or school in general, worth it? Everyone’s getting out of school 100,000 dollars in debt. Ever since coming into my creative element, I’ve always looked at music as a way of gauging myself. None of the great musicians went to school to learn how to be musicians. Art needs to flow from a similar place.
Can you walk us through the pot-making process?
I have the mold here [which is] basically a negative of the pot itself. You fill this with slip, which is watered down clay. The plaster acts like a sponge and wicks the moisture out of the clay so the clay is drying from the outside. You let it sit for an hour or two depending on the temperature and humidity, and the clay that touches the pot will dry. You dump the rest of the clay out and you’re left with a film. You take the pot out and trim it and you’re left with the pot. So the inside of this negative is the positive. Then I take it to the glazing station and then we paint them—that’s cool cause they always go through our hands, they have that handmade finish—and then we stick them in the kiln, fire them at 2000 degrees, take ‘em out and ship ‘em.