PIPER John
(born in 1903 at Epsom). Studied at the Royal College of Art and the Slade School. Attached to the Army as a painter during the Second World War, he executed a series of paintings of streets, houses and monuments demolished by bombardments, notably the House of Commons and the City of Bath. Piper came to painting rather late, and began as a landscapist, painting the picturesque southern coast of England. About 1933, as a result of his contacts with certain painters of the École de Paris -- Braque, Helion and Arp, among others -- his style changed, and he turned to twodimensional abstract compositions based most frequently upon vertical arrangements of flat colour. His scale of values was again revised, however, and in the late 'thirties he began working in a more realistic vein, which nevertheless retained from his earlier discipline an austere sense of composition and was often superimposed upon an essentially abstract-expressionist colour scheme. Now began that long series of dramatic, even melodramatic, portraits of castles and great houses under lowering skies that is most readily associated with his name. In these architectural themes Piper's sense of topography and history -- perhaps too his long interest in medieval stained glass -- have found their fullest scope: his crumbling patinated façades, painted in rich, warm tones with all the variety of texture that oil paint is capable of, are imbued with true poetic feeling. Increasingly with the years, Piper has felt himself drawn to the traditions of English eighteenth and early nineteenth century Romantic landscape painting; he has returned to the selfsame scenes beloved of Richard Wilson and James Ward -- to the frowning crags and fearful sublimities of the Welsh mountains and Gordale Scar -- and has depicted them with an ever-greater 'rough and scumble' in his handling. That one who sees landscape so greatly in terms of the theatre backcloth, should have found himself directly engaged in décor is scarcely surprising. Piper has become well known for his work as a theatre and ballet designer; in particular his name is associated with the operas of Benjamin Britten, for which he has produced settings of striking and affecting power. He has also undertaken a good deal of graphic work, and has written with sympathy about the visual arts.
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