The outback-inspired works of this humble Yackandandah potter are now world famous.

Story By Patricia Maunder

“I avoid the term ‘artist’ in any form,” John Dermer says. He prefers the term ‘potter’. Yet this seems too humble a word for a man whose works are among the permanent collections of many Australian art galleries, including the National Gallery of Australia, and international institutions. Over four decades, he has created thousands of beautiful ceramic objects, including studio pieces for Wedgewood, where he was artist-in-residence during the early 1970s, and commissions for Parliament House (for the Prime Minister’s suite and Cabinet entry).
But ‘potter’ is a handle that suits John, who turned 60 last year. Unlike the frenzy and flamboyance often associated with ‘artist’, it suggests something quiet, unassuming and disciplined; a balance of creativity and practicality, intelligence and skill. John embodies all these things.
At 25, John was already making a living from his life’s passion, which he stumbled upon while visiting Dunmoochin, Clifton Pugh’s artist colony in the Victorian bush. “There were a couple of brothers working there as potters,” John says. “They were making these beautiful, simple pots out of local clay for a restaurant – goblets and bowls and that sort of thing – and it made a lot more sense to me than graphic design.”
Within a few months, John ditched the graphic design course he had only just begun and switched to a ceramics degree. In a few more months he was selling pots to prestigious Melbourne department store Georges. “I enjoyed the fact that I was making pots for people to use, and that’s what’s kept me going ever since,” he says with his usual calm and quiet confidence. Though best known for his exhibition pieces, John still makes functional porcelain tableware.
After honing his skills and enhancing his reputation in Japan and England, John put down his roots in Yackandandah in north-east Victoria, where he not only created pots, but a mud-brick family home, studio and gallery surrounded by an abundant garden. A mix of natives and robust exotics, twittering with diverse birdsong, it’s a far cry from the scrubby paddock he purchased 36 years ago.

This story excerpt is from Issue #74

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2010