Comfortably clad in a T-shirt and baseball cap, sculptor Issac Nichols describes himself as a “reluctant businessman”—his business being the production and sale mainly of ceramic breasts, but also ceramic faces, butts and various other unmentionables. In 2012, he launched his Brooklyn-based studio Group Partner with a pair of bare, tan-lined nipples sculpted onto the surface of a ceramic pot.
“It was a joke that I made for my girlfriend,” Nichols says, a more modest, human riff on voluptuous breasts he had seen on a mug in a Miami gift shop. “I think that earnestness carried through for a lot of people.” The modest so-called “boob pot” was an instant viral sensation; Nichols jumped from making 60 or so pots by hand to employing a four-person team capable of making 10,000 a year. (“We never make that many,” he says, “but we could.”)
The name Group Partner “didn’t come from anywhere,” Nichols recalls. “It was my Instagram handle. I tried rebranding, like, four times, but everyone called me Group Partner.” Boob pots made their way to the shelves of Opening Ceremony, Steven Alan and the Whitney Museum gift shop, all with zero effort put into advertising, packaging or any brand strategy.
“The popularity was completely unexpected,” says Nichols. “I didn’t think about what I had been making or why. But I was looking backwards and thinking of what this gesture means. There’s nowhere you can get a figure of a normal naked person. There’s Barbie and G.I. Joe. Other than that, there’s no replication of the human form. We are pro-nudity and pro-body and adding to that roster.”
Ironically, interest in Nichols’s brand of body positivity exploded on Instagram—a platform known for its vehement anti-nipple policies. “Nipples are a controversial thing because of politics, which is insanity to me,” he says, yet his ceramics were never flagged—only images of his real-life nipples. “I had such a hard time making the account about the company and only posting about pots, when I’m trying to post pictures of me being a weirdo. Little by little I’m growing up.”
In the spirit of body positivity, his inventory includes breasts in 30 different colors and patterns. Those remain the most popular, although his inventory now includes faces, bottoms and boys. “I always say the man takes longer because I’ve never seen a naked man before,” jokes Nichols. “That’s not true. It’s harder to do because there’s so much more anatomy.”
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