This monumental tribute to the art of John Piper (1903–92) may look daunting at first glance, despite its powerfully attractive cover, but it quickly becomes clear that nothing less could do proper justice to an artist so protean in his work. Piper’s life spanned almost a century and his creativity took such numerous forms – from painting, collage and lithography to the design of stained glass, tapestries, book jackets and opera and ballet sets; from photography to art and architectural criticism – that even this exhaustive survey can barely keep up with each new development. Indeed, David Fraser Jenkins and Hugh Fowler-Wright make the point that while most of Piper’s contemporaries would refine and develop what they did best, ‘as soon as he was able to do something well, which was often quite quickly, Piper would abandon it to do it in a different way, or to do something else’. His sheer artistic facility, allied with an insatiable interest in architecture, created an extraordinarily diverse artistic output.
The authors have immersed themselves in this cornucopia and they chart a steady chronological passage through it, one enriched by their deep understanding of the art-historical currents of the times. Despite writing some acute criticism and presenting the first-ever arts broadcast on British television in November 1936, Piper was far