Saturday, 2 January 2010

What did you have for Christmas?

John Piper took a journey from Abstraction back to Representation. Visit Walsingham, and in the Refectory and other parts of the Anglican Shrine you will find wonderful examples of his work. During my time as an undergraduate, I was able to have on my walls in college work by some of the greatest 20th Century English Painters, thanks to the JCR Art Collection. Who today could possibly afford to have a great John Minton, or a Ceri Richards, or even a Francis Bacon? Alas the college decided to flog the Bacon, to fund the better preservation of the rest of the collection. What remains is housed in one rather cramped exhibition room in the attic of the former Christ Church Almshouses.

There is no better way of understanding a work of art than by living with it. One of those works from the Pembroke Collection which I had on loan for a term was a John Piper, studies for a stained glass window. So it was a delight to be given 'Lives in Art' by Frances Spalding for Christmas this year. The book is a doubtle artistic biography, concerned not just with John Piper but also his wife Myfanwy.

In the '30s, Piper had toyed with abstraction, very fashionable at the time. His best known and best loved work, though, comes from his mature career, when he returned to Landscape and Architecture. His work at Windsor was so atmospheric that it occasioned the King's famous remark "Pity you had such dreadful weather while you were with us". But the weather, in all its moods, was vital for Piper's paintings and lithographs.

Possibly this is the direction Damien Hirst is taking; tired of stuffing sharks or encrusting skulls with diamonds, he is painting again, as I believe some of the other young Turks of Britart are doing.

It is not just painters who have to rediscover the past. The church seems to be going through a similar revolution, discarding the once obligatory hessian chasubles and pottery chalices for baroque needlework and eastward-facing altars. Is there something in the air? Perhaps it is the atmosphere of the time, in which Anglicanorum Coetibus will flourish.

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