For the last fifty years Tony Birks (1937 – 2014), writer, artist and collector, has been one of Britain’s key figures in the crafts, and a principal figure in the world of studio pottery. One aspect of Birks’ obsession with pottery was the wonderful collection that he accrued over the years of British, American and European pots, including early and rare examples by Mick Casson, Ewen Henderson, Gordon Baldwin, Andrew Lord, Anthony Hepburn, Richard Batterham, Claude Champy, Takeshi Yasuda and Robin Welch. All of which will be on display at the Sainsbury Centre in May 2015. The sensibility that comes through is that of a man deeply interested in ceramics as a vehicle for abstract form and surface.
Tony Birks contributed to a major exhibition held at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in 1990; Lucie Rie, Hans Coper and their Pupils and wrote for the accompanying book. Many consider this to be a seminal event in establishing Rie, Coper and the grand generation that came after them. It also consolidated a friendship and professional association with Robert and Lisa Sainsbury, who were interested in much the same aspects of modern ceramics. A string of books preceded and followed this exhibition, and reinforced the position of modern ceramics and Birks’ position as its champion; Art of the Modern Potter and The Complete Potter’s Companion are among his most influential books, along with writings about modernist potters including Hans Coper, Lucie Rie, Ruth Duckworth, Gabriele Koch and Claudi Casanovas.