Peter Layton

Internationally renowned glass artist, Peter Layton, studied textiles at Bradford Technical College and later at Bradford College of Art. 


Peter was born in Prague in 1937 but his Jewish family fled the Nazis in the nick of time when he was only two-years-old. They left everything they owned and caught the very last train out of the city after dramatic dash by his mother to secure papers. They settled in Bradford where his maternal Victor Hecht Gravegrandfather, Victor Hecht, who had been born in Austria, had recently settled. Dr Hecht became a GP and City Pathologist. Peter recalls spending many happy hours looking through the microscope in his lab in Great Horton, and has retained a love of microphotography ever since. But away from medicine, his grandfather was a keen painter and photographer who enjoyed Bradford’s rich cultural life and the beauty of the local moors, as his gravestone attests. He took his grandsons to see many local concerts and exhibitions and encouraged them to pursue their talents. While Peter became an artist, his younger brother, George, became a successful actor and writer.
 
It seemed that Peter was destined to be an artist. As well as his grandfather’s influence, he showed promise at school, where his talent for art led to him becoming firm friends David Hockney. But Peter did not initially follow Hockney to Bradford College of Art, although he did become a College student. He remembered “When I left Belle Vue School, I worked in the rag trade and did evening classes for a couple of years, studying textiles at Bradford Technical College, before I did National Service.” It was only after he then spent a year on a kibbutz with a group of artists that he came to College a second time, this time studying at Bradford College of Art. It was here that he abandoned his painting ambitions in favour of pottery, and having taken ceramics up to intermediate level, continued his studies in ceramics at the Central School of Art in London. Peter then went to teach ceramics in America for three years and fell in love with glass.
 
While he was teaching at the University of Iowa, he met a man who had been to a glass workshop in Toledo run by the pioneer of studio glass, Harvey Littleton. Peter explained, “Since mediaeval times glass had been a very secretive medium. The Venetians kept glassmakers on the island of Murano. Legend has it that death squads would follow glass makers who might want to leave and sell secrets.” This led to the decline of individual glassmaking and meant that glass not a medium accessible to artists but only done in an industrial setting until the advent of the studio glass movement. Peter was attracted by the spontaneity of glass but a little knowledge was dangerous, and as his tutor knew little more than him, he was almost killed at a summer workshop in Iowa, when an early attempt to turn glass red by creating a reduction by pouring oil down the blowing iron resulted in the contents exploding just past his ear.
 
Peter said, “I did a little glass in Iowa but it was the blind leading the blind. Within a day or two I burnt my hand really badly. After the burn I thought I would never blow glass again but I got hooked. It took ten years to switch from ceramics to glass. I started off lumpy and clumpy, and then went back to what Tiffany was doing, but no one really wanted to know. Clay was more commercial. Galleries said that glass needed special lighting and none of their customers had it. I looked around for glass that doesn’t need lighting and came up with iridising. No one iridises any more as it involves toxic chemicals which are bad for people and the environment. It is not a Clay is a lovely tactile material but it takes forever; whereas, glass is very immediate. You are opening the kiln every day.”
 
Hot Glass ExhibitionIn 1976 Peter set up the London Glassblowing Studio and Gallery, which is now one of Europe’s foremost creative centres for glassmaking. In 2001 the College’s Yorkshire Craft Centre staged an exhibition, Hot Glass, a visual feast of blown glass forms by Peter and colleagues.  The studio and gallery relocated to new premises in 2009 and allows visitors to enjoy seeing beautiful glass being created, as well as selecting purchases from a treasure trove of brightly jewelled glass. Peter has been central to providing education and opportunities for aspiring glass artists and he is a founder member of the Contemporary Glass Society (CGS), which offers support to glass artists, fosters links and promotes glass art, nationally and internationally. His London studio also offers classes. Peter said, “The historically secretive attitude of glassmakers is why the glass industry died, but in the studio glass movement everyone shares techniques and ideas. This includes co-operation across political barriers. However, glass is still a Cinderella of the artistic world. You can spend Peter's Glass workhours making a piece at considerable cost, without the rewards of painting or installations. There is considerable imbalance, but it is still a fascinating medium.”
 
Peter’s work has been critically acclaimed, commercially successful and widely exhibited throughout the world. His work varies from the purely decorative to pieces that are social comments, like Poppies, an anti-war statement. His 
commissions have ranged from huge architectural pieces, such a as a bespoke chandelier for one of the £30 million apartments at the top of the Shard, to work to small series to complement major exhibitions or collections. In 2012 he produced some gorgeous collectable pieces for the Royal
Academy to complement Hockney’s A Bigger Picture, and was delighted to be reunited with his old friend at the private view. This work was displayed in Bradford when he held a show and gave an illustrated talk at Bradford Cathedral in autumn 2013. (You can read more about it and see images here) The National Gallery recently approached Peter to create something based on their paintings, and he has taken inspiration from one by Turner and a Van Gogh.
 
Peter’s passion for glass remains undimmed by time. In 2013, at the age of seventy-six he signed another four-year-lease, despite a massive rent rise and selenium, the main constituent of red, increasing in price by 70%. He said, “Every new piece involves a lot of research. I want to make art but running a glassblowing studio in the middle of London, with staff dependant as they use the facility for their own work too, means that it has to be a commercial success. It is a tricky balance between experimenting and selling. I will go on for another four years, at least. I have a lot to say and I want to say it.”