Glass art is something that until recent years has remained to the wider audience, something that was seen as more of a craft than an art. However in recent decades, certain artists have helped push these crafts, materials and techniques in to the public eye, and more importantly, the big established galleries. Tracey Emin did it for textiles, then Edmund de Waal for ceramics, and Dale Chilhuly has done it for glass.
The material has a long and complicated past – archaeologists generally agree glass manufacturing began around 3500 BC in Ancient Mesopotamia, but it has flourished in pockets of civilisations across the world and throughout time. The Romans were so adept at glass making that some of their techniques used to create intricate sculptures, glasses that changed colours and swirled trinkets are still not fully understood. Glass has come to be associated with stained medieval windows and Venetian chandeliers, rather than as a “fine art”. Candid magazine went down to London Glassblowing to have a go air making some art glass.
Yet a trip to London Glassblowing quickly dispels any idea that this is anything but fine art. The studio and gallery, set up by Peter Layton in 1976, was among the first of its kind in Europe. Quickly gaining a reputation for its prominent use of free forms, vibrant colours and experimental outputs. Located in Bermondsey, the space houses 10 resident artists, a gallery space showcasing both in house creations, and exhibition from previous residents and leading fine art glassmakers from across the world and a viewing area where the public can watch the master artisans create both commissions and their own works. Enthusiasts can also have a go at creating their own glass works of art – something not offered by many places in the country. Classes teach the basics, form gathering the molten glass from the 1,100 degrees centigrade furnace and making solid glass paperweights whirled with colour, through to blowing hollow free form glass sculptures. The masters make it look easy, but offer excellent guidance and encouragement, and its easy to say where the addiction comes from.
The glass works in the gallery show the infinite number of colours, forms and textures these pieces of art can take – and objects range from practical bowls and vases through to ornamental objects and large abstract sculptures. Currently a retrospective of works by Karen Lawrence who recently passes away showcases her amazing skill for the painstakingly delicate and genius for intricacy in her oeuvre. Other highlights include the works of Tim Robinson’s colourful spheres that are bold and vivid, and Bruce Marks beautiful organic forms that have sensuous forms.
Perhaps the temptation of regarding glass art as second tier to painting, sculpture and even ceramics is due to people’s preconceived limits of its creativity – glass art is discussed as if it’s limited in its ability to elicit emotion from the onlooker. A trip to London Glassblowing makes it obvious that glass can capture a moment, a feeling and an idea.
By Harry Seymour
London Glassblowing, 62 – 66 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3UD. Mon – Sat, 10 – 6, admission free.