Mike Cain - Biography overview

Mike Cain was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1941, but spent most of his early years in Burslem, Stoke on Trent. His father was a miner. In the early-1950s Mike discovered his interest in Art and after leaving school went to study at the Burslem school of Art, where he first met the painter and writer Arthur Berry. As well as being his tutor Arthur became a life long friend.

For many years, as a means of funding his creative ambitions, Mike worked in the ceramics industry. Then towards the end of the 1960s he rented his first studio with several other artists in the centre of Burslem. He held his first public exhibition at the Brampton Museum and Art Gallery in Newcastle under Lyme. 

From the end of the 1960s through to the mid 1970s Mike worked in the ceramics department at the North Staffordshire Polytechnic. He continued to exhibit in the Potteries and Manchester before deciding to study for a degree in Fine Art at Coventry (Lanchester Polytechnic). He specialised in painting and sculpture but continued working in ceramics and print making.

After his degree Mike trained as a teacher and for the next 25 years taught Art,  from the end of the 1970s through to the early 2000's. His first job was as a ceramics teacher at Hatton School in Derbyshire where one of his first pupils was Dave Harper. Mike also taught at various other schools throughout North Staffordshire.  

In 2016 Mike returned to making ceramic art after a gap of almost a decade, during which time he'd concentrated on his painting. He began working with Dave Harper and this resulted in the formation of the Penkhull Artist Potters Association at the beginning of 2017.  

Mike Cain - becoming an artist

"In 1953 I was walking past the Burslem School of Art and I was stopped in my tracks by what I saw. To celebrate the coming coronation of the Queen the students had boarded-over the building's lower windows and constructed giant paintings in the style of artists like Picasso. I must have been eleven at the time and I'd not seen anything like it let alone heard of Picasso, but it was wonderful, quite wonderful." Mike Cain

John Michael Cain was born in Burslem – one of the six towns that make up 'The Potteries' in 1941. His father was a miner but throughout much of his childhood Mike's mother was ill and largely confined to the home. At the age of fifteen Mike left school and went to work in a furniture shop in Hanley called Palfreymans.

"You wouldn't believe how bad my education was. It was a terrible experience, like something out of the 19th century. We had just one teacher who took every lesson. I knew nothing and left barely able to read and write."

Mike liked drawing, and decided to enrol for evening classes at the Burslem School of Art.

"The tutor was a man named Norman Herbert. He gave me a small model of a head to draw. I'd never done this sort of sketching before. After a while he explained about light and tone and made a small sketch on the corner of my paper to show what he meant. I'd never been helped like this before,."

But that same evening Mike was to be offered more than advice on his drawing technique.

"A little later that evening this old man came into the studio and shuffled round. He looked at everyone's work, mumbled something and left. But a few minutes later I was told that the 'Principle' wanted to see me. To be honest I thought I'd done something wrong but in fact he offered me a full time place at the college studying Art, and with that my life changed forever."


Burslem school of art - A new world

Mike gave up his job at Palfreymans department store and studied full time at the Burslem School of Art. It was there that he met several people who would have a major influence of his life. This included the artist and writer Arthur Berry who was his tutor and later became his friend, and fellow art student Tony Wild.

"I came into contact with a world that I didn't know existed - a world of all the arts. I discovered people like Matisse, Paul Klee and Van Gogh, writers like John Steinbeck and the music of Miles Davis. Every day was exciting with Friday evenings spent at the Embassy Club in Burslem listening to modern jazz."

While at the Burslem Mike planned to do a degree in Fine Art, but family and personal circumstances led him to Manchester where he lived for four years.

"I did all sorts of jobs, but I also carried on with my painting. It was an exciting time culturally with films like Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, This Sporting Life and A Taste of Honey. Coming from a working class background I felt I was part of this 'New Wave'. 

Mike returned to Stoke and worked in the pottery industry making screen-printed transfers. This led to a job at the Stoke College of Art (North Staffordshire Polytechnic) where he became head of the screen printing department. During the evenings and weekends he'd work in his studio in Burslem and at the end of the 1960s Mike held his first public exhibition, at the Brampton Art Gallery in Newcastle under Lyme.

During the early 1970s Mike exhibited at various venues around the 'Potteries' but he became conscious that to develop further as an artist he needed to work on his creative projects full time. This resulted in doing a degree in Fine Art at Coventry Polytechnic. One of his fellow art students and friend was Horace Panter who later went on to become the base player with the 2-Tone band 'The Specials'.

After graduating Mike completed a teaching qualification and spent the next twenty-five years teaching Art, Design and Ceramics at schools in Staffordshire and Derbyshire.

Mike has always seen himself as an artist who works in a number of media including ceramics, sculpture, photography, print making, and painting. Throughout his time as a teacher he exhibited both as part of group exhibitions and on his own.  

The 'Potteries' and the countryside of the north midlands has always been a source of inspiration to Mike.

"I'm a collector of textures and shapes. I use a lot of found objects in my work, They inform and inspire my work, and sometimes I use them directly both as part of some of my sculptural work and my ceramic art." 

"I think our industrial past and how it presents itself is a strong influence on what I do as an artist. The artefacts of the industrial revolution: the canals, roads, bridges, machines and factories, for me possess a kind of integrity. This integrity manifests itself in the way materials are used and juxtaposed and in turn this translates into a powerful aesthetic." said Mike 

In 2016 Mike began working in ceramics after years of largely concentrating on painting and sculpture. During this time he had a chance meeting with the artist Bruce Mclean which proved influential and set Mike on a new direction in terms of working in slab based slipware. Mike began by working with friend and fellow artist Tony Wild and then with Dave Harper. Early in 2017 Mike formalised this relationship by founded the Penkhull Artist Potters Association.