A new exhibition of glassmaker Peter Layton’s fluid and organic pieces take nature as their inspiration, and take glass into hitherto uncharted territories.
Every now and again, even those of us who are inured to the shock value of the beauty of certain works of art (we are all lucky to live in Liverpool, in which it abounds) can be taken aback.
This new exhibition – part retrospective and part brand new – does just that.
Having done more to promote glassmaking as an art form than anyone else in Europe, Peter, at 75, remains highly active in his field and has influenced, encouraged and nurtured several of this country’s leading glassmakers and has also worked with several international artists.
A Bradford school friend of David Hockney, Peter found that art was not a viable way to make a living there; nevertheless he eventually applied to Bradford Art College and then went to London’s Central School of Art and Design to specialise in ceramics. Offered a temporary teaching job in Iowa University’s ceramics department, his time there coincided with Harvey Littleton and colleagues, who were pioneering a revolutionary hot glass technique, finding the spontaneity and immediacy inspiring.
Since returning to Britain, he has promoted glassblowing as an art. In 1969 he helped build the first furnace at the Glasshouse in Covent Garden. Later he established his own glass studio at Morar in the Highlands of Scotland, a Glass Department at Hornsey College of Art and, in 1976, the London Glassblowing Workshop in an old towage works on the Thames at Rotherhithe. In 2009 Peter’s London Glassblowing Studio and Gallery moved to much larger premises in Bermondsey.
Peter now runs the London Glassblowing Studio there as a collective. Glassblowers can use kilns to create their own work and develop skills. Works produced help to pay large energy bills, putting creativity before the need to be commercial. Much of the richly coloured glass art is his own work which can also be found in museums, galleries and exhibitions across the UK, Europe and America.
Where some glassmakers follow a format for producing work, others prefer to create abstract works which evolve during the creative process. Layton’s work falls firmly into the latter category and he is known for his distinctive use of colour, and organic forms. ‘Glass is extraordinarily seductive,’ explains Peter. ‘Every piece is an adventure and you never know exactly what you have created until you open the kiln and see how a piece has turned out. I love that moment of surprise.’ Inspired by whatever is around him’ he regularly creates conceptual, environmentally-originated pieces
Along the way, Peter has written several books, received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Bradford, become an Honorary Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers and also been given the Freedom of the City of London. He has sold work to a huge range of clients from Elton John to the Duchess of Kent; his brother, George Layton, the well-known actor, is one of his many serious collectors.
He says, ‘I have so much that I still want to do. You can never create the perfect piece of glass and there are always new ideas, techniques and other challenges to master. Glass is such an underrated medium – there is a fluidity and uncertainty which I choose to embrace rather than overcome. My work is designed to be lived with and enjoyed as the light changes, not just viewed in a museum’
This is an unusual and surprising exhibition of work. Part practical, always sculptural, and highly dynamic in its challenging use of colour and light, it presents a rare opportunity for inspiration.
Special Event: Peter will give the Gardner-Medwin Lecture at the Bluecoat Display Centre on Thursday 31st October, from 2.30-3.30pm. Tickets £4.95 (£3.95 BDC Friends & concs.) His presentation entitled “Past & Present” will be an illustrated survey of London Glassblowing; one of the longest running and most successful studios in Europe, within the context of British Studio Glass.
Peter Layton, Solo
Bluecoat Display Centre,
(until November 9)
Gayna Rose Madder