Scarborough gets a unique chance to witness the development of a key phase in British art this month. Exhibitions by two of the leading artists of the past century, John Piper and Howard Hodgkin, should give some insight into how the great art movements of the twentieth century swept over this island. And, in the present age of conceptual art and installations, we’ll get a chance to see how much paint and print still matter.
John Piper was born in 1903, and became one of the group of artists, writers and composers who dominated British culture in the middle of the century. Piper was friends with Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash and Barbara Hepworth, and collaborated with the likes of Benjamin Britten and Stephen Spender. His work with John Betjeman on the Shell Guides stands as one of the great monuments of British culture. Piper’s abstract take on English and Welsh landscapes, particularly churches and old houses, became his signature and places him solidly alongside the likes of Ivon Hitchens and Eric Ravilious (both in Scarborough Art Gallery) in a notably British tradition.
Howard Hodgkin was born thirties later and was one of the generation which blew in with the spirit of the 1960s and pushed aside the likes of Piper and Nash. Along with Patrick Caulfield, Bridget Riley, R B JKitaj, Peter Blake and David Hockney, Hodgkin offered something vivid and exciting, but, like Hockney he managed to escape the categorisation of a pop artist, instead his abstracts with blocks of colour seem to reflect a continental tradition echoing the likes of Matisse.
Hodgkin and Hockney are now, in turn, the elder statesmen of British art; it will be fascinating to see how Piper and Hodgkin still work their magic.
John Piper shows in Woodend from 2 to 16 July and Howard Hodgkin at Scarborough Art Gallery from 9 July to 18 September
- Published in Visuals: Features