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John Piper

Artist Biography

John Piper (1903-1992) was a prolific artist whose career spanned over sixty years. He worked across a vast range of media including printmaking, painting, drawing and illustration, photography, stained glass, fabric design, murals, stage sets and costume design.

Piper was taught at Epsom College, he then trained at the Richmond School of Art, and in 1926 went on to study at the Royal College of Art in London, until 1928.

Piper’s overriding fascination was vernacular and ecclesiastical architecture. Abbeys, churches, houses, castles, cottages and details of architectural design were frequent subjects for his prints. His style can be attributed to his interest in English heritage and commitment to the emergent modern and abstract movements that were developing as he left art school. Dramatic, romantic combinations of colour, calligraphic line and experimental textures are the tenets of his oeuvre.

In addition to his fine art talents, Piper also enjoyed writing - working as a critic for the Listener and the Nation after finishing his studies at the Royal College. He was also among the first to recognise such contemporaries as William Coldstream, Ivon Hitchens, Victor Pasmore and Ceri Richards. Shortly after, having been influenced by Ben Nicholson and the St. Ive’s group, Piper founded the magazine ‘Axis’ - an overt endorsement and explicit statement of his move into abstraction.

During World War II, he worked as an official war artist - recording the effects of the blitz on Britain’s buildings. After producing a series of drawings of Windsor Castle for H. M the Queen at the time, Piper’s work picked up interest at an increasing rate. After the war, he became a Trustee at the Tate Gallery and National Gallery and then in 1959 he became a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission.

Piper’s passion for buildings extended to every detail-resulting in his creation of a stained glass window for Coventry Cathedral; the windows for Eton College Chapel and alongside Patrick Reyntiens, for Liverpool’s Roman Catholic Cathedral. 

Piper also realised his vision of buildings through lithograph, starting Contemporary Lithographs in 1936. ‘A Retrospect of Churches’ – perhaps his best-known piece, was produced in 1964 and around this time, he also took an interest in screen-printing and etching. This, amongst his other endeavors, was incorporated into the full retrospective of his work hosted by the Tate in 1983.