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A major exhibition exploring the career of celebrated 20th century British artist John Piper comes to Coventry's Mead Gallery from Tuesday 1 May 2018, offering a new perspective on Piper’s powerfully sensitive depictions of his native land.
John Piper is famed for Coventry Cathedral's stunning stained-glass Baptistry Window. This exhibition, organised by the Mead Gallery in association with Tate Liverpool, features over 40 works by the artist including abstract and landscape paintings, collages, photographs and designs.
From the beginning of his career Piper held a profound affection for Britain’s rich ancient history and contrasting landscapes, although, during the 1930s, he also drew inspiration from Paris-based artists such as Alexander Calder (1898-1976) and Jean Hélion (1904-1987). Piper championed international abstract art through his role in the Seven and Five Society and contributions to the pioneering abstract art review, Axis, which was edited by his wife, the librettist and art critic Myfanwy Piper (née Evans). And yet Piper’s work of this period retained the colour palette and many of the figurative and representational elements connected to the English landscape from his earlier work. His practice at this time reflects a wider tendency among British artists of the 1930s to evolve a distinctive British strand of modernism.
During World War II, Piper became an official War Artist, creating some of his most sombre and vital works. Journeying across the country, he recorded the damage sustained by historic buildings and monuments during air raids. Amongst his subjects was Coventry's decimated medieval cathedral, still burning when he arrived the day after the catastrophic 14 November 1940 bombings.
Post-war, many of Piper’s key interests – notably colour, architecture and heritage – converged with a series of high profile stained glass commissions. Amongst these is the breath-taking Baptistry Window for Coventry’s new cathedral, measuring a monumental 52ft wide by 84ft high and featuring 195 panels. The cathedral was consecrated in 1962, the same year Piper began work on Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral’s impressive lantern window.
Born in Epsom, Surrey, in 1903, Piper was a major contributor to the artistic landscape of 20th-century Britain and left a profound imprint on British cultural life. His versatility was extraordinary. He had great success illustrating the popular and idiosyncratic Shell Guides, edited by poet John Betjeman. He designed theatre sets and costumes for Benjamin Britten and his practice extended into travel writing, printmaking, fabric design and tapestries. The artist died in 1992 at the Buckinghamshire farm house where he’d lived since the late 1930s with Myfanwy.
The exhibition at the Mead Gallery features rarely seen works from the late 1920s to early 1950s on loan from pubic collections including Tate, the Imperial War Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and National Museum Wales, as well as many private collections nationwide.
John Piper was curated by Darren Pih, Exhibitions and Displays Curator with Tamar Hemmes, Assistant Curator, Tate Liverpool. The exhibition can be seen at the Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, The University Of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL from Tuesday 1 May to Thursday 21 June 2018. Open Monday-Saturday noon-9pm, Sundays and Bank Holidays noon-5pm. Admission free. For more details call 024 7652 4524 or see: meadgallery.co.uk