Peter Layton has been at the forefront of British studio glass since the late 1960’s. He discovered the art form while teaching ceramics in the US in the mid-1960s, and upon his return to the UK in 1968 he began to experiment with his own glass designs inspired by the environment around him. In 1976 he founded London Glassblowing, his internationally renowned glass workshop and gallery, now located in London’s Bermondsey. Since its opening, London Glassblowing has nurtured and produced some of the world’s leading glass artists, including (most recently) Elliot Walker of Netflix Blown Away fame.
Layton’s colourful and painterly works of glass art can be found in numerous public and private collections, both at home and abroad, including the Victoria and Albert Musuem and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. He has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally, receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bradford for his contribution to arts and crafts in Britain. Layton is also the founder of the Contemporary Glass Society, which is Britain’s foremost organisation supporting and championing the work of glass artists, both established and new.
Tessa Packard [TP]:You have explored a number of different mediums in your artistic career, from textiles to ceramics, painting, and of course glass. Why did you finally settle on glass as your genre of choice and what is it about this material that makes your soul sing?
[TP]: How would you describe the glass art you make in five words?
[PL]: Impressionist, expressionist, intuitive, spontaneous and colourful. Of course I would like to also say sublime, spectacular, enduring, striking and stunning!
[TP]: Does your Czech heritage influence your glass work design in any way?
[PL]: I was born in Prague because my father, who was Austrian, was working there in a glass factory. He was very tickled when eventually I found my way into glassmaking. There are a number of contemporary Czech glass artists, for whom I have great admiration, although I don’t feel that I have been greatly influenced by my Czech heritage.
[TP]: When you founded London Glassblowing in 1976, what was your vision for the space? And has this vision become a reality, or something different, or more?
[PL]: Originally established in an old towage works on the banks of the Thames in Rotherhithe, we are now located in a great space on vibrant Bermondsey Street near the Shard and London Bridge. We have a large hotworking studio, a fine gallery, and are currently creating a state-of-the-art facility for coldworking where we will cast, cut, grind and polish glass sculptures.
[TP]: In your interview with The Shard Magazine, you talk about glass as the ‘Cinderella medium’ in this country. Do you think that glass is undervalued and underrated the world over, or specifically in the UK? Furthermore, why do you think this is?
[PL]: There have been periods in history when glass was very highly prized, but for centuries it has been seen as an inexpensive and merely functional material. In the art world, too, there is a hierarchy of media and glass seems to be somewhere near the bottom of the pile. However I do feel that this is changing as public awareness of its extraordinary qualities grows. It is now becoming a viable medium for artistic self expression.
[TP]: Do you think Netflix’s current Blown Away series will do (or has done) anything positive for your sector?
[PL]: I definitely think that Blown Away is reaching a very wide audience and is achieving amazing and very welcome exposure for this medium. The show really does illustrate its versatility. Elliot Walker, who worked in our studio until recently, stars in it and he more than upholds the honour of the Brits.
[TP]: Your gallery and workshop is a wonderfully inspiring place to be: home to a treasure trove of art as well as numerous artists in residence honing their craft. What do you get from their participation, and what do you think they learn from yours?
[PL]: London Glassblowing has gained an international reputation as a creative hub where we constantly learn from each other. Each of us strives to pursue our own direction in this most magical medium. Visitors to our gallery often comment on the range and diversity of approaches to the medium illustrated by the work on display. I am often amazed by how our artists continue to push the boundaries.
[TP]: What three glass artists, living or dead, do you admire and why?
[PL]: There are so many:
1. Dale Chihuly for drawing global attention to Glass Art and for working in such an ambitious and expansive manner
2. Colin Reid for his steadfast approach to the sculptural possibilities of glass as an artistic medium. and of course
3. Elliot Walker for his immense talent, skill and determination. I wish I was his age!
[TP]: In your opinion, what is the one thing that you would change about your sector if you could?
[PL]: There is a hierarchy of media in the art world; contemporary glass art is still under appreciated by serious collectors and as such is still incredibly good value. Throughout my career I have attempted to raise the profile of glass as an outstanding vehicle for artistic expression. It is gratifying to see this occurring more.
[TP]: Many sources credited you as being the pioneer of the studio glass movement in this country. Who do you see as your successor in the next generation?
[PL]: I am only one of a number of pioneers of the studio glass movement in the UK. Others like Sam Herman, who brought small furnace technology to the UK in the 1960’s, and Keith Cummings, Colin Reid and David Reekie have all pioneered the growth of cast glass and continue to do so. For the future there are a number of rising stars: Tim Rawlinson, Louis Thompson, James Devereux and Elliot Walker will continue to take this medium forward.
[TP]: Your gallery is exhibiting at this year’s Collect Fair. What is the underlying theme for the selection, if any? And what are you most excited about showcasing?
[PL]: Sadly only online this year, on the Artsy platform, Collect is still the best Art Fair of its kind in Europe. It provides a crucial venue and deadline to focus the creative endeavours of those artists selected to exhibit there. Our gallery aims to show the very best of British Glass Art and this year we are introducing two newcomers. Kate Pasvol with her extraordinary layered landscapes and Sophie Layton’s painterly interpretations on glass, both of whom employ little-used historic methods in a contemporary idiom.
[TP]: If you were made Prime Minister tomorrow, what would be the first thing you would tackle or change?
[PL]: I would tackle climate change from every possible angle, making us the lynchpin of a global programme of economic, cultural and ecological renewal. Having said this, I propose to move to an electric furnace as soon as I possibly can.
ON THE SPOT
Town or Countryside? Both
Favourite city? Paris
Your perfect dinner guest, dead or alive? Pablo Picasso
If you could time travel to any era it would be…? Florence during the Renaissance
The best meal you’ve ever eaten is? Baby Squid a la plancha in Spain or Butter roasted cauliflower in Jerusalem.
The one essential you can’t leave home without? Keys!
Pet hate? Trolling and racism
Biggest extravagance? Art books
Favourite book? Wolf Hall Trilogy – currently reading in lockdown.
What would your gravestone read? My father’s reads ‘He was a gentle man’ – I suppose I would like something similar.
Best TV Programme? Anything by David Attenborough. Also just viewed ‘It’s a Sin’ and found it to be excellent.