The Collect gallerist at the heart of London’s glass scene
From makers and designers, to collectors and curators, Collect brings together a diverse mix of people all doing very different work. In the latest issue of Crafts, we met just a few coming to this year’s fair including Vessel Gallery’s founder and director Angel Monzon, a leading proponent of contemporary glass in the UK.
Angel Monzon is one of the top authorities on contemporary glass art in the UK, and probably Europe, although he’d be bashful about saying so. As founder and creative director of the Vessel Gallery in Notting Hill, which opened in 1999 and is more or less the place to go for glass sculpture and decorative lighting, Monzon has put himself at the heart of London’s glass scene.
Walking through the door of Vessel, one is greeted with an edit of unique and limited-edition pieces that span all manner of styles, from the vibrant colour blocking of Hokanson Dix and Lynn Read to the sobering forms of Anna Torfs. Monzon and his wife and business partner, Nadia Demetriou Ladas, didn’t set up Vessel to be a monochrome, lifestyle boutique where all of the pieces fit together for an overall aesthetic. Quite the opposite, in fact: Vessel’s two floors are packed full of varied glass and ceramic pieces from makers in all corners of the globe, including several home-grown talents like Vivienne Foley, Vanessa Hogge, Jo Taylor and Graham Muir. There are vessels, of course, but the collection spans lighting, wall panels and hanging objects in glass, ceramic and other materials like metal and crystal.
Having grown up in Sweden with Spanish heritage, Monzon made his home in London 25 years ago when he came to study at Kingston University and then the Royal College of Art. ‘Furniture was my thing, but I suffered too much behind a drawing board. I couldn’t react to briefs and deadlines. I love the other side of it – the selling, the marketing, the development part of it,’ he says.
In that vein, Vessel creates editions with emerging and established artists, and runs a bespoke service for interior and corporate clients – the fastest growing part of the business. Mentoring makers and pushing them to try new things is one of Monzon’s favourite parts of the job – and it’s a fascinating area because a lot of makers are very reticent to categorise themselves as artists or their work as art, he says. ‘It’s a lot to do with confidence and that person saying “I want to make something that is pure emotion using my skill”. Because that’s what craft is, it’s a skill.’
Monzon’s enthusiasm is infectious as he shows off the current showcase in the downstairs gallery space, which holds a family of works by British maker Elliot Walker. ‘He’s incredible, one day he just decided to have a go at making glass sculpture. He’s very meticulous and he likes his work to be presented a certain way – I can understand that,’ says Monzon, peering down at the spread of glass objects making up Walker’s Half-Life, which will be on display as part of Collect Spotlights.
The talent of glass art in the UK has widened in the years since Vessel opened its doors, and is something that obviously delights Monzon: ‘I feel extremely passionate about what’s going on because we have an incredible generation of studio glass artists,’ he says. He reckons it’s down to a combination of the strength of the glass and ceramics programme at the RCA; initiatives and exhibitions from organisations like the Crafts Council; and the support of revered glass artists like Peter Layton.
When they started out in the late 1990s, Monzon and Demetriou Ladas had a simple goal to exhibit contemporary works that were unusual and fresh. Over the years their business model has shifted with the times, but that initial goal has remained the same. At first, the gallery was a retail space and also a go-between for brands and big name designers like Tom Dixon and Anish Kapoor. But with experience it became clear that Vessel should develop its own collections with artists and designers, and in the intervening years has collaborated with the likes of Nigel Coates, John Pawson and Barber & Osgerby.
Monzon and his wife both collect vintage glass pieces and he chalks up this personal passion, in part, to his Swedish roots: ‘I saw glass from an early age and I had friends who were using it in design. But I also see the diversity of it – that’s what I love about it,’ he says. ‘There are so many aspects and techniques to glass – fusing and slumping and blowing and casting. Fifteen years down the line and I’m still learning.’
Stand no. 8.4 at Collect 2018, Saatchi Gallery, London SW3, 22-25 February 2018