The celebrated journalist Richard Ingrams notes in his introduction to 'Piper's Places' that 'a guidebook should have two aims: one is to accompany a traveller and alert him to things to look out for: the other, more difficult to achieve, is to appeal to the armchair reader and inspire him to go out and explore.' This reference to the popular Shell Guides, cites Piper's unique ability to portray the spirit and significance of a place. In Post-War Britain, this collaboration between John Piper and John Betjeman championed great churches and endangered country homes, the emphasis on giving historic buildings new prominence which allowed them to grow into beacons of national identity.
Bohun Gallery's 2018 show examines Piper's travels around the British Isles, focussing on some of his favourite 'haunts'. The exhibition begins with his role as War Artist, raising public awareness of the vulnerability of the national heritage in 'Recording Britain'. His 1940 painting of 'Valle Crucis Abbey' gives an early indication of his delight in 'decrepit glory' and 'pleasing decay'. It is this unapologetic joy in the simple characteristics of the building that formed the artist's modus operandi. The exhibition continues to explore the next fifty years of the artist's work as he records the landscapes and buildings of the British Isles.
Highlights include paintings of Herefordshire church interiors of the 1950s illustrating un-touched Norman architecture; a magnificent painting of the Oxfordshire church at Lewknor, close to Piper's home in Fawley Bottom; painting and collage of Kent's Pavillion at Rousham; silkscreens and fabric designs focussing on Blenheim Palace and Stowe; further afield, there are quintessential Welsh ruins and an important 1968 painting of Caernarvon Castle.
Another highlight is the Romney Marsh painting of Snargate church which Piper had first visited at the age of 15, camping with a friend, not far from the medieval building. He returned frequently, painting a number of the churches in the early 1980s to raise money for the Romney Marsh Historic Churches Trust. Devised by Piper, the journalist Richard Ingrams and the then Archbishop of Canterbury, the Trust recognised the importance of these churches, and were determined to prevent their further decline. The Trust's work continues today. As a young man, Piper recognised the significance of such buildings and, later, at the height of his career, he became an integral part of a growing body determined to protect and maintain our English heritage for future generations to explore and enjoy.
We owe a debt of gratitude to this 'Very English Artist'.
Bohun Gallery have always had a particularly enduring bond with John Piper and have been staging biennial shows of his work since the 1970s, offering a unique opportunity for Piper enthusiasts. Instead of seeing, often, familiar work by the artist in 'formal' museum surroundings, Bohun provides a very personal introduction to his work, featuring not only paintings and prints, but also tapestries, fabrics, furniture and ceramics, in intimate surroundings. Visitors can get up close to examine the brushstrokes, the printing techniques and the ceramic decoration. The experience is enhanced by the wealth of knowledge at hand, from the Gallery Director and staff. Perhaps, and most importantly, it gives visitors the opportunity to acquire Piper's work and to really share and expand on the influence of this Modern Master.