Piech’s work has been the subject of renewed interest in recent years, thanks to a book published by Four Corners Books in 2013, as well as a 2016 retrospective hosted at Manchester’s People’s History Museum.
Born in New York, the artist spent 17 years in the ad world, while also creating covers and editorial pieces for magazines including British Vogue. He developed a name for himself as a poster designer and printmaker, often drawn to making pieces with a political slant, and incorporating lettering alongside his imagery.
As the Independent wrote in his 1996 obituary: “His books and posters confront the viewer with the need for global responsibility and cooperation.” Amusingly the paper also notes that during the Second World War, and while posted to Cardiff with the US air force, Piech was responsible for painting “glamorous blondes” on the front of aircraft.
In the latter part of his life, after relocating to Porthcawl, Piech started incorporating Welsh language and culture into his work, and it’s these pieces, alongside his literary posters, that are featured in the exhibition.
They’re being shown next to the original linocut printing blocks – which Piech, apparently, was never far away from. Evidently the artist always had his cutter to hand, working on Christmas day, every night – with one eye on Coronation Street – and even from his hospital bed.
Piech’s work offers a kind of scratchy intensity, particularly in his big-eyed literary portraits. His willingness to engage with political and social issues feels particularly relevant in current times.
The artist himself said: “I just look at humanity the way it is and then I make a graphic expression of it. The purpose of graphic expression is to realise some truth that they’re missing and to do something about it … I don’t want to sit around and be silent.”
The Literary World of Paul Peter Piech is on at the National Library of Wales until 23 January, 2021; library.wales