John Piper’s work throughout the 1930’s in many ways illustrates the conflicting influences that were at work in British art of the period. Moving from an early manner somewhat reminiscent of Christopher Wood to full abstraction in the middle years of the decade, Piper began to move away from the more rigorous elements of abstraction in 1937, and thus the present work must date as one his earliest forays back into the landscape genre which was to become his trademark throughout his career.
Although the landscapes of 1937-38 break from abstraction in their subject, the technique in which they were executed make Piper’s links with European modernism clear. A friend of Alexander Calder and Jean Helion, and through his wife Myfanwy’s involvement in the magazine AXIS and his friendships with Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth well-acquainted with current avant-garde trends, Piper began to make work which tied together his deep-rooted passion for the British landscape and his abilities to use a variety of media to express a strong sense of place and time.
The collages of this period, in which the present work sits, take the coastline as their subject, and were made in situ on Piper’s frequent motor tours of the country. Using cut and torn scraps of patterned paper, bits of letters, sheet music and newsprint, worked over with Indian ink and glued to a base sheet, not only does the artist create wonderful images but also works which retain the spontaneity of their making. The evident hand-made element of these collages is something that is very much a feature of its time, taking non-art materials and transforming them into works which evoke the spirit of place, a feature of Piper’s art that would become its central and guiding motif.