January 22, 2020

Keep Dreaming

        The work of Paul Peter Piech seems appropriate as a follow-up to Martin Luther King Jr Day.  Piech (USA/Wales, 1920 - 1996) was a graphic artist who worked in advertising until the late 1960s, after which he produced hundreds of lino and wood block printed posters that combined images with lettering to make social and political statements.  Many of these were in the form of quotations, and Piech made a number of posters featuring words of MLK Jr.  I don’t know how many altogether, but from 1977 through 1979 he made a series of 100 posters commemorating King’s assassination.  From the most famous words of all, “I have a dream,” to longer, less well-known passages, Piech celebrates King’s message.
        Perhaps not surprisingly, Piech’s imagery is dominated by faces and hands.  These are the most emotionally expressive parts of humans, so they’re bound to be a powerful part of any images designed to elicit an emotional response.  Even so, though, Piech concentrates on them even more than the Mexican political printmakers, for example.  He also combines faces and hands in unusual ways, such as placing faces on the palms of hands.  Perhaps the faces represent people and the hands represent actions.

        The text is the other characteristic element of Piech’s work.  I have to confess that I don’t like the large paragraphs of text so much.  Piech’s lettering is difficult to read, and the solid blocks of words are not as graphically powerful as the images.  I do like it when the words and images are more integrated, as in the third piece shown here.  Piech does create an interesting style, though, and it gives his work a distinctive look.  It also makes the message more explicit than images alone can ever communicate.
        Each year we try to remember Martin Luther King Jr’s message and what he stood for, and to recommit ourselves to moving toward justice.  Perhaps the most important piece of all is to hold onto the dream and never allow ourselves to be lulled into the belief that we’ve come as far as we can.  Piech took seriously the artist’s role in helping us to remember to keep working and keep dreaming.

[Pictures: I Have a Dream, relief block print by Paul Peter Piech, 1995 (Image from National Poetry Library);
Love, relief block print by Piech, second half of 20th century (Image from Regional Print Centre);
Economic Injustice, linocut by Piech, 1977 (Image from WorthPoint);
The Softminded Man, linocut by Piech, 1977 (Image from WorthPoint);
Retaliation, linocut by Piech, 1977 (Image from WorthPoint).]

1 comment:

PAX said...

Piech reminds me of another artist who combined words and images to create social commentary: Ben Shahn (d. 1969). The latter used a variety of mediums including murals, pen and ink drawings, mosaics, paintings, but I am unsure if he did block prints.