Saturday, April 09, 2016

Colour, curves, collage - masterful design

John Piper: Foliate Heads 1954  (image from here)
Yesterday we went to the city of Chichester (really a town in size, but with a cathedral) in order to see John Piper's textile designs at Pallant House Gallery - John Piper The Fabric of Modernism.  (There is a catalogue available, which I look forward to reading later today.)
Three rooms are full of designs which have lost none of their vigour, attractiveness, nor their feel of being contemporary despite being from the mid 1930s to the late 1980s.  Indeed there is a freshness, and immediacy and sheer joy evident in not only the preliminary work, whether painting or collage, but also translated to the screen printed cloth or tapestry executed by appropriately skilled craftsfolk.
I had never seen the collages previously, and was delighted and excited by their exuberance.  For instance this one above of the Brittany shore particularly attracted me  (the sky is made from his own torn up marbling).
And I found it intriguing to think about the skill of combining colours in such a way that they will continue to work so well together even in different produced colourways.  The two examples of Arundel fabric above are very simply against white and black, and the latter of course dramatically reminiscent of Piper's many examples of stained glass design (the most universally famous being at Coventry cathedral - image from here).
The first tapestry design commissioned from Piper was appropriately enough for Chichester cathedral.  The image below is from the short YouTube film on the tapestry - produced by the Goldmark Gallery which also has this page of available works by Piper, and has made more films seen in the sidebar of the YouTube link.
I love the way that collaged papers with all their splodges, splashes, and spottings are translated onto the textile surface.  There were various preliminary collage designs made (like the one below - image from here) which are equally exciting.
The final room displays four individual Foliate Head seasons, of which this is Summer (image from here),
and a delightful Welsh Lake (Llyn Teifi), which I was surprised to see had been woven in Namibia from an etching by Piper.
I am part way into Frances Spalding's excellent biography of John Piper and his equally gifted wife Myfanwy Piper, subtitled Lives in Art started when I knew that this show was upcoming.   Seeing the exhibition provided a tremendous rocket boost to the inspiration I am deriving from my reading, and it is such a pleasure to revisit and re-examine my long held admiration for Piper's work.


  1. I was collecting something from the dry cleaners on Thursday and a man came in with a set of heavy, gorgeous curtains he wanted to have cleaned. He told the assistant who was helping him that the design was by John Piper. She did not respond, but I did, and we had an interesting conversation about his wonderful curtains.

    And now, your post, Olga. Thank you for these wonderful images.

  2. I am a huge admirer of John Piper's work ever since we went to Coventry Cathedral (millions of years ago!). Thank you for the post about the Pallant House Gallery - I shall be there! Another coincidence for you - on Wednesday we went to the Jerwood to see John Bratby & gained the wonderful bonus of a reasonable size Piper exhibition which was curated very thoughtfully. I can recommend it. Some similar pieces to those above were on show.

  3. Thanks Jenny. I noticed that the Jerwood has a Piper exhibition. I shall not be able to visit, but my husband is there at present, so he can go for me. Meanwhile I continue to enjoy the biography.