The art of glass, London Glassblowings’ Peter Layton

By Elspeth Pridham
August 29, 2019

Celebrating 10 years on Bermondsey Street, London Glassblowings’ founder, artist Peter Layton, shares his enthusiasm for this versatile material.

London Glassblowing was established by artist Peter Layton in 1976, the studio now has a reputation as one of Europe’s leading glassmaking workshops with a particular flair for the use of colour, form and texture.

“I originally trained as a potter and was teaching ceramics at the University of Iowa when I discovered glass by participating in a short course. I got the bug and started London Glassblowing,” Layton says. “Glassblowing at that time was an art/craft skill that had previously been unavailable to individuals outside the factory environment. So this was a huge learning curve for us all.”

There are now 10 people working in the studio, which moved to Bermondsey Street 10 years ago. The showroom, which hosts a regular programme of events and shows throughout the year, opens onto the workshop so visitors can view the ancient craft of glassblowing – watching as molten glass evolves into a thing of value and beauty.

“People often gasp when they walk into our gallery and see the vast range of approaches to the medium; the variety of colours and forms on display,” Layton says. “Not to mention the drama and spectacle of the studio at the back.”

If you have sufficient puff, you can sign up for a beginners class – but it may take several sessions before you are able to complete one of the larger bespoke projects London Glassblowers are commissioned to produce.

“We have just completed two large sculptural forms, based on an English garden theme, for the new Saga Cruise Liner, Spirit of Discovery,” Layton says.

For smaller residential environments, his Paradiso series is popular and he has recently created a piece inspired by Hokusai’s Great Wave.

Although the first traces of blown glass were found on a 2nd millennium BC site in Chogha Zanbil, Iran, Layton says there are still new techniques to explore. “I’ve just discovered a technique of blowing into wet newspaper moulds, like papier mache, to create a textured surface. I’m currently working on a series of mountain shapes with blown cloud forms,” he says.

Layton says he has always been a fan of the German glass artist Erwin Eisch – now in his 90s – whose unconventional approach to glassmaking helped break down the barriers to the way the public perceived glass as a medium for artistic expression.

“My highlights of the last 12 months include visiting Morocco and Japan, both of which are providing sources of inspiration for new areas of visual research,” Layton says. “I have just released a new series entitled Marakech – a vibrant orange and blue combination that I hope will convey some of the rich colour and excitement of the souk.”

Travel clearly provides inspiration for Layton’s work as does beachcombing, which he then translates into art. “I love the immediacy of the medium; the organic nature of the process,” he says. “Some glassmakers work in a more formal way, perfecting a particular shape. I’m more interested in the expressive qualities of the medium, in allowing the glass to flow and speak.”

What does glass art bring to the interior? “Visually, glass is the most versatile of materials. It brings light, colour and form to interiors. Its transparency brings a fourth dimensional aspect to any space. Light is transmitted, reflected, refracted through glass in a way that no other medium can. In my opinion it is the most spectacular medium to enhance any interior or exterior space,” says Layton.

Glassblowing is an extremely expensive process and artists have therefore reverted to working in groups to share the cost. Despite this, Layton says, “glassblowing is burgeoning. Although glass as a medium is still a very undervalued and appreciated, events such as the wonderful Chihuly exhibition at Kew, in 2019, has drawn much-needed public attention to the medium.”

* From 13 September to 5 October, Celebrating Glass is a group show at the Bermondsey Street showroom featuring both in-house and guest artists