I have been working a lot in collage lately as it seems to fit my seascapes. I find it to be quite a freeing media. Sometimes it becomes a starting point for a painting, sometimes a work in itself.
Often as I work away chopping, slicing, tearing and cutting bits of paper I am reminded of my hours of play as a child with fuzzy felt. I always felt limited as child to the pre-cut pieces provided in the children’s toy, but now I get to play and I can use any shape or texture I want. I pull things from magazines, paint paper, use old wallpaper samples, food wrappers etc…
I first came across use of collage in the Cubist images of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque – fragmenting and reconstructing geometric forms. They embedded fragments of wallpaper, posters, newspaper cuttings, sand, wire, transferring bit of their reality to the context of the picture.
My main recent inspiration has come from John Piper 1903-1992. I love his landscapes from 1930s and he in turn was inspired by seeing the Cubist collage work. He is well known for his strong images of ruined churches standing out against dramatic skies and often decorated with surprising colours and washes. I like his work from the 1930s as he was exploring modernism and the view that art stripped back to its essential elements becomes more meaningful and direct.
Image above: Angle Bay by John Piper 1938 – watercolour ink and collage
In this early period, Piper used collage combined with gouache and ink in a simple, naïve, and often Cubist style, with blocks of colour or collage representing seaside cliffs and beaches. The results show British coastal views, but also in the use of paper doilies and cut up newsprint which conjure up images of British seaside guest houses and tea rooms. In Harbour Scene, we see the paper doilies acting as net curtains, a vase of roses cut from a magazine, and the labels from a cigarette packet used to simulate the advert on the tobacconist shop in the foreground.
Also below is an image of Avebury with its standing stones. I love the simple blocks of earth tone colour revealing the lines of the landscape and the dramatic stone shapes weaving though the hills.
Harbour Scene by John Piper 1932
Breakwaters at Seaford by John Piper 1937
Archaeological Wiltshire by John Piper 1936-7
I enjoy using the Cubist method of multi viewpoints being recombined into the two dimensional flatness of the canvas and ignoring the rules of perspective.
I can imagine John Piper with a board on lap and a bag of paper next to him, putting together these wonderful sketchy raw images, that really give an idea of the cold wind on the beach and the waves. Such simple shapes and bold marks in black. Apparently he travelled around with a bag of prepared printed and marbles papers, music scores, and abandoned lithographs.
John Egerton Christmas Piper CH (13 December 1903 – 28 June 1992) was an English painter, printmaker and designer of stained-glass windows and both opera and theatre sets. His work often focused on the British landscape, especially churches and monuments, and included tapestry designs, book jackets, screen-prints, photography, fabrics and ceramics.
He was educated at Epsom College and trained at the Richmond School of Art followed by the Royal College of Art in London. He turned from abstraction early in his career, concentrating on a more naturalistic but distinctive approach, but often worked in several different styles throughout his career.
There is a great video on this website – John Piper on The Southbank Show:
Finally in my exploration of John Piper’s work I have recently come across these wonderful later seascape images.
From August to September 1960, Piper visited Finisterre in Brittany and on the return to his studio at Fawley Bottom in Henley-on-Thames, produced a series of large collages from his sketchbooks that reflected his renewed interest in abstraction and in particular his pre-war collage technique. He was remembering the rocky beach-scapes, using a wax resist, over which he applied watercolour and cut out marbled paper, these works are known as the Brittany Beach series. The marbled paper he employed can traced back to his first experiments in making marbled paper in the late 30s, in the bathtub at home using a mix of oil paint and turpentine.
He was also around this time finishing the huge abstract design for stained glass for Coventry Cathedral, which he had prepared partly in collages of coloured papers.
I am excited to visit the John Piper Gallery in the River and Rowing Museum in Henley. https://www.rrm.co.uk/visit/galleries/