MEET THE MAKER
Peter Collis: Ceramicist
Ceramicist Peter Collis has been transforming clay into sophisticated objects for more than 40 years. From his Birkenhead studio overlooking Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour, he collaborates with his wife, actress Julie Collis, on ceramic projects large and small.
Peter’s early forays into crafting clay began during detentions at school. Regularly banished to clean the potting studio for "being a bit cheeky”, he quickly discovered a passion and a natural talent for ‘throwing’, the process of shaping clay. He’s since become known for creating servingware for New Zealand’s top restaurants (including SidArt and The Grove) and has exhibited his work internationally in more than 50 solo shows, from Asia and Australasia to North America and Europe.
In conjunction with celebrity chef Ben Bayly, the Collises created Bayly & Collis, a range of ceramic homeware for Stevens, in 2015. Since then, they’ve added pieces such as a platter and bowl to the range. The latest Bayly & Collis range, B&C Black Sand, is now in stores throughout the country, and features the hand-thrown style for which the brand is known, a contemporary fluted form and fine edges to bowls and plates. A subtle gloss-white glaze has a speckle of ethically sourced iron sand from the west coast beaches of New Zealand.
We sat down with the 66-year-old to find out more about his career.
Ceramicware is having a bit of a renaissance. Why do you think this is happening?
The renaissance is food driven and it’s really exciting. It has been initiated by top restaurants and chefs, such as Ben Bayly and Sid Sahrawat, who have picked up on the handcrafted aspects of Noma [a restaurant in Copenhagen] and Attica [a restaurant in Melbourne] and other leading restaurants around the world. We are approached by two or three restaurants every week and I make for six of the top eight restaurants, as well as The Langham. The chefs are creative and I approach working with them as a design project.
Tell us about your collaboration with Stevens.
The first Bayly & Collis range came from me making plates for Ben Bayly as executive chef at The Grove and Baduzzi. Ben was working on the TV show My Kitchen Rules, which was sponsored by Stevens, and wanted more interesting tableware for the TV show. Then, of course, the pieces had to be available in store so – fantastically – Stevens funded the Bayly & Collis range. It’s like a dream come true for me.
We used the pieces we did for Ben as a model for the Original range for Stevens in 2015. We’ve since extended the range with a mug, utensil jar, a large bowl and a platter with seasonal colour changes. The pieces have that enduring, handmade quality.
Where did you learn ceramics?
I’m self-taught. It started in the fourth form. My form teacher at Mt Roskill was the art teacher who ran the pottery classes. He often gave me detention, which involved cleaning up the pottery room. When we were supposed to be cleaning up, we’d get on the wheels and make pots. I had success in being able to throw and developed a love for it. When I left school in 1970, I wanted to become a potter but my parents said I had to get a degree first. In the university holidays, I’d go to the studio of Neil Grant, a famous potter. The teaching was watching him and learning by hanging around his studio; it was very informal. I became a secondary school teacher for a few years until Julie and I bought our first house and we built a studio. I left teaching as soon as I could and became a full-time potter in 1978.
Tell us about your collaboration with Julie.
Julie and I have been married for 45 years. We met at school and when I wasn’t potting or playing rugby I was chasing around after her. She has a very good eye for design and colour; she and I work together on pretty much everything. She was an art and design teacher for 25 years at Westlake Girls and has become an actor. We’ve supported each other throughout our careers. When I wanted to be a full-time potter, she stayed in teaching. When she wanted to be a full-time potter and actor, I supported her.
What does a typical day at work involve?
I start around 9am and finish at around 5pm, but as we work at home, we never stop checking the pots drying or firing the kiln. I tend to work in a cycle – throwing, turning for firing, then I go through a glazing and firing cycle. I’ve become known for my throwing ability but I do other forms of making, such as hand moulding. When I started out, the green-eco-hippie movement was in full swing and everyone wanted brown or green pots. I feel like I’ve come full circle!
It’s a pretty amazing lifestyle, you are your own boss and do your own thing. I’ve travelled the world with my pottery, exhibiting and teaching. I’ve exhibited in New York, England, Japan, Dubai, Hong Kong and Taiwan. I’ve had the most amazing things happen and I never really say ‘No’ to opportunities. One day, a guy arrived at the studio and invited me to Singapore to exhibit – he paid my airfare, accommodation and all costs. We formed a great relationship. Another time, a French artist who lived on Bora Bora wanted to learn to pot and so we went there for a month with expenses paid and a salary.
New Zealand has a long history of ceramics – has that history influenced your work?
As a kid, I used to go to Crown Lynn a lot. I’ve always been fascinated with factory ceramics as well as studio pottery – I’m excited about process. My artwork is more to do with the modernists and is influenced by Constantin Brancusi, Lucie Rie and Hans Coper – the European as well as Californian modernists.
What do you do when you are not working?
We mountain bike. We’ve done most of the major rides in New Zealand. The last one we did was the Alps to Ocean – Mt Cook to Oamaru.
You can see Peter creating the Bayly & Collis collection for Stevens, here.