three hundred years of collectable glass in one day

The Cambridge Glass Fair


An interview with
vic bamforth

Vic Bamforth is an artist who has helped to bring the highly demanding graal technique into the 21st century. He combines hand-painting and glass blowing skills to create one-off internationally collected, sculptural works of art in glass. He is a regular exhibitor at the Cambridge Glass Fair and has kindly agreed to be interviewed for the website.

Vic Bamforth
Vic Bamforth

When and how did you become interested in glass ?

Around 1990, when living in Buckinghamshire, I enrolled on an evening class for stained glass. This was prompted rather serendipitously. I had been to a car boot sale and a page of a book was opened and it had a picture of a stained glass window on it. That cast my mind back to when we were kids (1950's) and our dad had made a stained glass window which depicted a galleon at sea - I could just see the amazing colours he used and the design and technical skills he used to create it despite being untrained. Subsequently, around 2000, I enrolled on another evening class.....this time it was hot glass - a subject which is undoubtedly very addictive/seductive.

How did you get into the Graal glass painting technique?

At the International Glass Centre, Brierley Hill (2001/2004), I'd done some overlay Graal and then discovered 'Paradise Paints', some high firing onglaze enamels from California. Without previous experience or knowledge of painting on glass I just picked up the paint brushes and enamels and 'had a go'. I stuck with them for the remainder of the course and then carried on with them when I started making professionally in 2005 at the Red House Glass Cone, Stourbridge. Painting on/in glass using a variety of approaches/techniques is now may main focus.....especially with my commissioned work.

Where do your ideas and inspiration come from and how would you describe your work/style to an audience that is unfamiliar with it?

I bring together glass blowing and painting skills to create colourful one-off glass art pieces. 

The basics that drive the work are the dynamics of colour, movement, and some of the unique properties and qualities of glass itself such as refraction, reflection, transparency, translucency and opacity.

The key elements in my own creative process are intuition, instinct, spontaneity, serendipity and osmosis. As artists/makers we use glass to try and 'express' what we want & feel but occasionally the glass also needs to express itself so sometimes allowing the pieces to grow organically can result in works that are visually arresting, thought provoking and honest.

I do like 'telling stories', and being rich in imagery and text my work often has a strong visual narrative which, often humorously, reflects my own view of the world  - both real and imagined.  

Regarding the painting style and subject matter, I am not aware of any specific sources of inspiration but find it interesting that numerous observers have said some pieces have a Mexican/Mediterranean 'feel' often citing Van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec and many have also mentioned Grayson Perry which makes me smile. I would say the paintings have really just evolved as part of the making process and my journey thus far in glass. It is possible that nowadays I might know a little more about what I am doing and why I am doing it!

If I was interested in commissioning a piece where would I/the process begin?

As I am interested in storytelling I always think 'memories' are a great starting point. One private commission I did was titled 'A Few Of My Favourite Things'......'does what is says on the tin' as they say! Just go through photos (or folders on the pc/laptop etc!) and discuss with others'd be surprised how much will come back and begin to flow until you have your own life/lives flashing in front of you waiting to be encapsulated/immortalised in glass - a family heirloom in the making!

Which are the best and worst aspects of being a maker and exhibitor?

The best........meeting & chatting with visitors - both regular and new. Catching up with regular exhibitors and meeting new ones. "Never a dull moment" - you never know who you will meet next! For me there are no worst aspects.....I expect nothing yet retain a positive & hopeful attitude.....having said that I sometimes think if I designed & made much less heavy objects (textiles or jewellery maybe) my body would be more appreciative!

What was the best piece of advice you were given when you started your journey in glass?

Find your own voice, do what you feel, be guided by your instinct - be true to yourself.

What advice would you give anyone thinking of, or just starting to make glass?

Have no pre-conceived ideas. Be guided by your intuition & instinct, be patient & persevere. Acknowledge and embrace serendipity - I believe the element of chance does play a significant role in the creative process - it can open doors that enable you to see hidden value & beauty.

Do not be afraid of colour!!!

What is the most special / interesting piece that you have made or own?

'The Strongest Links' of three one-off pieces I designed & made for 'STORYTELLING: Once Upon A Time In The Midlands' an exhibition in 2013 that was a call out from Bilston Craft Gallery for works that were to be a response to a list of stories, factual and/or folklore, from the Midlands. The piece is about the 1910 strike for a wage increase (from 1 & a half to 2 & a half old pennies per hour) by the Women Chain Makers of Cradley Heath in the West Midlands. Amazing what the women had to endure just to put food on the table & a roof over their heads!

What sort of glass do you collect personally, if any?

I am not a collector.....however I do have one or two pieces I have 'swopped' with other glass artists/makers. My favourite is a blown piece from Bruce Marks (Bruce chose one of my 'Mackerel Fillets' pieces) 'Boat' series, it wasn't just the physical beauty & technical skills that drew me to it but what Bruce said about this 'series' of work....... "I see these vessels as fanciful boats cast up on the shores of some forgotten island. They make me wonder who would have used them and for what purpose - ceremonial craft or work boats? They have ethereal qualities that conjure up dreams I may have had or past lives I may have lived". Bruce and I will be doing another 'swoppie'.....I am very drawn to his recent 'Bird' forms and one of those will sit perfectly with the 'Boat' form.....maybe it is the migratory/flight/journey aspect that is drawing me to these two series!

Do you have collections of anything other than glass?

Again, no.......unless one's own work classifies as collecting, any visitor to my studio at the Ruskin Glass Centre in Stourbridge would understand this!

Is there a typical collector/buyer for your work?

There isn't actually......male/female, young/old - they could be 8 or 88 years old. I use a variety of techniques, each of which is quite different. Some people have a preference for one specific technique but often many are drawn to my work generally.

Other than The Cambridge and National Glass Fairs where do or have you exhibited your work?

Both UK and International galleries and exhibitions and art fairs including the British Glass Biennale and SOFA New York & Chicago.

Do you have any work in public collections?

Broadfield House Glass Museum, UK; Corning Museum of Glass, New York, USA; Bournemouth & Poole College, UK.

Where is your studio based?

The Ruskin Glass Centre, Stourbridge. This is also the main site of the International Festival of Glass/British Glass Biennale. There are around 24 individual businesses on site - primarily glass artists/designers/makers but also creative woodworking, ceramics, stone carving/sculpture, hand made goats milk soaps/natural cosmetics, textiles/related crafts & publishing - oh and a very nice cafe so well worth a visit!