John Pike – American Watercolour & Combat Artist
One could argue that John Pike is perhaps one of the United States less well known practitioners of watercolour art; perhaps this was because of his predilection to undertake a huge amount of industry work; advertisements, illustrations and the like. Nothing wrong with that of course, it pays the bills but in the eyes of some purists it can detract from the art for art’s sake mentality that we project onto some painters.
Even Pike’s date of birth appears to be a little sketchy although it seems to have been around 1910 in the United States. He was a student of Charles Hawthorne and Richard Miller in the period in which was learning his trade but in 1933 he headed to Jamaica. It was here that he married and had his only son. He remained in the West Indies for the next five years, working in the advertising industry there, in particular for the rum industry. He also became involved with interior design of nightclubs, theatres and the like.
Following his return to the United States in 1938, he enrolled in the U.S Air Force, completing his pilot training but becoming head of the Combat Art Section, attached to the Engineering Corps. The role of this group was initially to record the United States occupation of Korea in 1945 but in subsequent years he also completed assignments in Columbia, France, Greenland, Japan, Formosa, Ecuador and Germany. It is these paintings which make up the bulk of the collection which can be viewed at the United States Airforce Academy.
Added to this was Pike’s continual work for industry and he undertook contracts for a large number of American institutions such as Equitable Life, Reader’s Digest, Life and Standard Oil. From 1960 to his death in 1979 he ran the John Pike Watercolor School which catered for a variety of students from those wishing to study watercolour techniques for art’s sake to those sent by industry to pick up some advertising tips. By the time of his death he had also exhibited at more than sixty one-man shows.