Piper was born in Surrey and studied at the Royal College of Art in London from 1926 to 1928. He is best known for his picturesque, architectural and landscape paintings, which are in the romantic tradition of William Blake and J.M.W. Turner. However, during the mid- to late-1930s he was one of Britain's leading abstract artists. Piper worked as an Official War Artist in 1944, recording damage caused by bombing. In the 1950s he branched out, creating designs for stained glass, pottery, textiles and stage sets as well as writing on art and architecture.