Peter Layton has been at the forefront of British studio glass since the 1970s and has contributed more than most to its promotion and growing success. To celebrate Peter’s 80th birthday and his commitment to the glassblowing craft, Design-Nation asked him a few questions.
Design-Nation: Did you have any early teachers or mentors who encouraged you?
Peter Layton: On graduating from the Central School of Art and Design, I took up a teaching position in ceramics at the University of Iowa. Harvey Littleton, a potter considered to be the father of modern studio glass, had recently set up the first university glassblowing department in Wisconsin. One of his graduates was also teaching at Iowa and I was lucky enough to participate in one of his first summer glassblowing workshops. These early pioneers were certainly strong influences. Once I returned to the UK in 1968, Sam Herman, one of Littleton’s students was also an influence, because he was already working in glass in the UK.
DN: Tell us about the history of your studio, London Glassblowing.
PL: Founded in 1976, at Rotherhithe on the river Thames beside the Mayflower, we later moved to the Leathermarket, and are now located on Bermondsey Street, since 2009. We were already a firm fixture in South London, having spent the first 15 years in Rotherhithe and the next 15 were spent in the Leathermarket in Weston Street near London Bridge.
The move to Bermondsey Street was a very lucky progression – by far the best move we could have made, providing the only public access glassblowing studio in London. Bermondsey Street with its village atmosphere, its amazing restaurants, excellent galleries and quirky shops has something of the feel of Soho, New York – I like its vibrancy and ‘buzz’ and the sense of an area on the ‘up’.
DN: What do you consider to be your career highlights?
PL: The enormously influential triennial international Symposia at Novy Bor in the 1980’s as well as other symposia in Russia, Germany, France and Japan. Participation in these events was hugely inspirational – I felt that my contribution to these important glass events was hugely appreciated by the international community.
DN: Are there any individuals who have contributed significantly to your success?
PL: Glassblowing is very much a team activity and each individual who has worked at London
Glassblowing over the years has made a significant contribution. There are many and selecting any one over any other is impossible.
DN: Are there particular works you are most proud of?
PL: At one of the Novy Bor symposia, in 1988, I created within a few days, a two metre high glass pyramid, constructed from hot cast glass bars. It was met with huge acclaim and I am told that it is still standing today in the national collection.
DN: London Glassblowing has a great track record of working with emerging talent. Please tell us more about how this works and who you’ve worked with.
PL: London Glassblowing, by its existence alone, has provided a working environment for a great number of young aspiring glass artists, who have benefitted from the opportunity to develop their talent. This includes Siddy Langley, Tim Rawlinson, Laura McKinley, Anthony Scala, Jochen Ott and Bruce Marks to name but a few.
We also give an Emerging Talent Award at the British Glass Biennale, Harry Morgan and Monette Larsen being the first two recipients.
DN: Who are the ones to watch in glassblowing now and where should we go to see their work?
PL: What an honour and privilege to have known and worked with artists like Louis Thompson, who so impressed us last year with his sensitive and thought provoking installations in ‘Reflection’ at Salisbury Cathedral – he is certainly one to watch.
There is a plethora of amazing ideas and visual interpretations of the medium in my studio –
from the finely polished, intricate optical works by Anthony Scala and Jochen Ott to the complex colour works by Tim Rawlinson and Layne Rowe and hot sculpted works by Elliot Walker. Laura McKinley, currently studying at the RCA is also one to watch in the future. We the pioneering generation are being overtaken by incredibly talented young stars. This is entirely as it should be.
The contemporary glass world is vibrant and growing and I feel that the future looks very bright.
DN: What are you working on now and what does the future hold?
PL: I am currently working on a new sculptural series on the theme of clouds, as well as a wall installation based on Sunflowers, for Collect 2018 at the Saatchi Gallery. I hope to develop my Burano series for ‘Blowing Hot and Cold’, a show we are holding in May in our gallery on Bermondsey Street.
Interview by Laura Jacometti
1988, Peter Layton casting the bars for Pyramid, Novy Bor
1988, Pyramid cast glass by Peter Layton, Novy Bor
Blue Lunar landscape by Peter Layton. Photography by Ester Segarra
Cloud by Peter layton and James Devereux. Photography by Ester Segarra