In the early days he painted abstract paintings before becoming disillusioned and making representational work. This was typically full of searing colour. As time went on he diversified, being an early art pundit on television, collaborating to make books, designing stained glass and even vestments for churches, experimenting with printing and collage and designing a mural or two.
He is the sort of artist where bald facts aren't important, other than the fact he was born in Southern England in 1903 and so slotted in to the closest this country has ever come to a golden generation of painters. One thing a lot of these artists had in common was the pursuit of Englishness, an idea that has always fascinated me. The Great War and its industrial devastation had just robbed the world of its naivety. The rise of new countries and destruction of old empires that followed along with the beginning of the end of the class-structured society that defined this country meant no-one really knew their role in the world any more. Englishness would have been an obsession and a crisis. Artists sought it and defined it hither and thither. Stanley Spencer found it in the people. John Nash found it in the landscape. William Coldstream found it in the towns. John Piper found it in the architecture of stately homes and churches.
Thanks to the breadth of his endeavours and the length of his career, Piper can't really be pinned down to one style. One might say however that the two paintings above represent his most typical work, or at least the type of work he is best known for. For a more comprehensive view, try here.
This is arguably one of Piper's most important paintings. It shows Coventry Cathedral the morning after it was bombed during the Blitz, while the city was still burning. A harsh sky is half blue and half smoke. Parts of the ruins are black and charred, parts are red for both the colour of the stone and the colour of fire, parts are blinking in the sunlight. The building is filled with ash and rubble, not people. It is a human space made poignant by the absence of humans; they are elsewhere, fighting fires, tending the wounded, digging for survivors and wandering, dazed, searching for loved ones.