Thursday, 4 August 2011

Piper of the Greats Has Drawn

Happy days
John Piper (1903-92) is probably best known as an official war artist, painting the bombed-out ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral before designing the magnificent stained glass windows for the new cathedral.
Romney Marsh, Penguin, 1950
Surely a snot-inspired inspiration for 'Fungus the Bogeyman'?
Having flirted with abstraction in the 1930s, most of his work is usually described as neo-romantic, as Piper strained at the rising domination of modernism and became involved in various research projects, such as John Betjamen’s commission to write the Shell Guide to Oxfordshire and set design for Benjamin Britten, that led him to embrace Britain’s ancient past.
"We live in a kingdom of rains..."
One rather beautiful example of the result of Piper’s research is his small book on Romney Marsh, on the sodden border of Kent and East Sussex. It’s really a gazetteer on local churches, which he loved, neglected and ruined remnants of communities dying out or long gone, victims of flood and pestilence. The introductory essay also rambles pleasingly through tales of smuggling, farming, mire, Martello Towers, vernacular architecture and what Piper calls ‘the Hitler war’.
Derek Jarman's house (possibly)

Piper exploits the limited colour palette available to him, the swampy hues of green and brown that could spoil more vivid illustrations are employed in his design to perfectly capture the wet British landscape.

Penguin Books published the non-fiction King Penguin imprint for twenty years between 1939-59, producing 76 titles in all. The same size as standard Penguins, the King series were produced to a higher quality with superior paper and printing, hardbound and more stiff and formal in content than their common paperback cousins. Illustrated to a high standard and with fine cover designs, I find them tremendously covetable objects.

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