Peter Layton’s London Glassblowing studio has been producing world-class free-blown glass for the past 27 years. But in 2009, rather than resting on his considerable reputation, Layton moved the workshop from The Leathermarket studios to a new site in Bermondsey Street, south-east London, which was large enough to incorporate a cutting-edge selling gallery.
“The move couldn’t have been better for the business. This street improves weekly,” says Layton (seen in first picture). It certainly does. In the past few years, Bermondsey Street has become one of the city’s coolest addresses; Borough Market and the White Cube Gallery are nearby, while London’s newest architectural icon, the Shard, is a towering neighbour. It is now a favourite destination for international taste-shapers, increasing numbers of whom can be found walking through the doors of London Glassblowing, lured by the intense colour on show in the front gallery and the glimpse of the fully functioning, hot-glass studio at the back.
The gallery space hosts regular exhibitions by guest artists (the next one will be the Jerwood Showcase in June), but is mainly used to display work by Layton and his team of 10 glass artists. Selected for their promise (as “skill you can teach”, says Layton), the designer-makers include emerging star Louis Thompson, winner of both the 2012 Jerwood Makers Award for Glass and Best in Show at last year’s Glass Biennale. His works, such as his water-filled vessels (Strange Brew I and II, seen in fourth picture, from £2,900) are innovative and elegant – and ripe for investment.
But it is Layton’s own luminous work that is the main attraction. At the moment, his most popular pieces are those from a series he created for the Royal Academy of Art in response to its David Hockney exhibition. Entitled Arrival of Spring, the collection of polychromatic sculptures (examples in second picture, £780 and £1,200) is a celebration of Hockney’s colour palette.
Layton’s newest work, which goes on sale in April, is also artist-inspired and commissioned by a gallery – this time Turner and Van Gogh, for London’s National Gallery. “The new pieces always become the bestsellers because they seem to capture the mood of the time,” he says. “But we find that our clients [who include Elton John and a roster of publicity-shy aristocrats] still ask for the older pieces, too, so the range just keeps on growing.” The vibrant Paradiso series (£360-£4,500, examples in third picture) of sculptural forms as well as perfume bottles, bowls and vases, for example, was first designed in 2003 and is a perennial favourite.
The glass on display is mesmerising, but what really makes this place noteworthy is the fact that as you browse the work on the plinths, you can also see, hear and smell new pieces being made. On the day I visited, I watched, fascinated, as glass was transformed from a molten mass into objets d’art. “Seeing the work being made is an integral part of our success,” says Layton. Galleries of beautiful creations abound, but a gallery with a working furnace is a rare treat indeed.