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Libby Bove writes about the political artist and activist whose work has inspired her during her recent college studies.
Paul Peter Piech
I have been studying the prints of Paul Peter Piech as part of my art course at Yale College this year. This is an extract from an essay I wrote for the course. I hope it inspires you to visit a Piech exhibition or find out more about his work.
Paul Peter Piech was a printmaker of international note. His work deals with powerful political and human rights issues. Piech's prints are designed to grab your attention and make you think. Piech worked mainly in linocut and wood-cut prints, a medium which suits his bold and stylised images composed of large blocks of colour and tone, normally with no more than two or three colours per print. Although he was born to Ukrainian parents, Piech himself was born in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1920s; he died in Porthcawl, Wales, in 1996. The Welsh country and culture was very important to Piech, and has been an inspiration for many of his prints. Throughout his life Piech was involved in many political cases and was an egalitarian and a pacifist. Piech's strong beliefs are what fired his printing career.
Here are my responses to two of Piech's prints:
I found this image (top) quite unsettling. It shows the devastation, fear and destruction caused by the atom bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan in 1945. I think that the mood and atmosphere of this event is portrayed with the use of line, especially in the background. It looks as if debris is raining down all around. In the foreground, the harsh lines on the contours of the faces help to convey people's horror and despair.
This print (left) consists of six black handprints stained with red ink to represent blood. The 1976 Soweto riots started as a peaceful protest by hundreds of children and teachers in Apartheid South Africa. When police arrived, they fired round after round of tear gas and bullets into the peacefully protesting crowd, killing adults and children. Piech's reference to Soweto reminds us of the terrible consequences of racism.
I am inspired by the way Piech combined visually striking images with strong political content - exactly the sort of work that the art world needs more of. Contemporary artist Emily Johns, who also makes striking prints with a strong pacifist message, says: “Where my images are put to work, I would say that I tread in the footsteps of artists like Piech.” Paul Peter Piech was an exceptional political print artist.