Radical poster pioneer Paul Peter Piech celebrated at People's History Museum

By Richard Moss | 30 September 2016

A major force in the development of the radical protest poster whose roots were in the world of corporate promotion is celebrated at the People's History Museum in Manchester

a poster with a slogan in red and prints of rifle barrels a bloodied hand prints
Paul Peter Piech, Racism Is a Poison, Remember Soweto. Linocut from the Regional Print Centre/Coleg Cambria Collection
An artist, humanitarian and campaigner, the artists and printer Paul Peter Piech took on global issues, reflected the horrors of war and made some pretty stark political comments. 

Yet the man whose posters were some of the most hard hitting of the post war years spent the early part of his career as an advertising man, working in the industry on highly influential and successful corporate campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic. 

These distinctly different aspects of one of the most radical and influential figures in political posters  feature in the exhibition that also reveals his lifelong love of poetry and jazz, which were inspirational to him and his career.

“Piech’s own support and voice for liberal causes together with his skills and artistry in printmaking make him one of the masters of the political poster, which this retrospective explores and celebrates,” says Mark Wilson, Exhibitions Officer at the People’s History Museum.

“He was also a great observer of his time, often using the words and quotes of politicians and leading figures in his visuals.

“To understand his work and legacy, you need to understand the man, and through Dedicated to all Defenders of Human Freedoms we’ve set out to share Piech’s story as well as his work.”

Unpicking this story has seen the museum plunder the Piech family’s private collection, as well as items held at the Regional Print Centre at Coleg Cambria in Wrexham, who have jointly curated the exhibition. 

When Piech died in 1996 it was to the Regional Print Centre that his family donated an extensive portfolio of his work.

a poster with the words: "if you really care for your car it's time to change to energol the oiliest oil" and a image of a green flame coseying up to a car
Paul Peter Piech, Advert design for BP from ‘the Motor’ magazine October 1952. From Private Collection
a poster featuring a dragon and welsh lettering
Paul Peter Piech Daw dydd y budd mawr y rhai bychain (Waldo Williams). Linocut from the Regional Print Centre/Coleg Cambria Collection
a poster with a block of green writing and a hand holding a pen spelling the word poetry
Paul Peter Piech Decipherment (for RS Thomas). Linocut from the Regional Print Centre/Coleg Cambria Collection
a poster with a caricature of Margaret Thatcher on it and the duplicated word Falklands spilling from her lips
Paul Peter Piech Falklands Falklands Falklands. Linocut from the Regional Print Centre/Coleg Cambria Collection
Wales was to become the Brooklyn born Piech’s home. Whilst attending the Cooper Union School of Art in New York his studies were suspended due to the outbreak of WWII, which saw him posted to the UK where he met his future wife Irene Tomkins.

Irene eventually brought him back to Wales and the couple then moved to London in the late 1940s when Piech studied fine art and lithography at the Chelsea School of Art.

Between 1951 and 1968 he worked in advertising as an artistic director, creatively leading well-known campaigns including BP, ICI and British Steel. At the same time he formed his own press, Taurus Press, as a platform and expression for his political beliefs and to expand the art of typography. 

In 1968 Piech became a freelance artist and lecturer, with a focus on his printmaking and began working for groups like CND and Amnesty International and producing work that carried his own political messages; as in the Racism is a Poison series featured in the exhibition. 

“Piech used art as a means to question the world and society around him and many of the themes and ideas in the exhibition are still relevant today,” adds Jim Creed of the Regional Print Centre. “The exhibition marks the 20th anniversary of his death, which I believe is a fitting tribute to his artistic achievements.”

Following his retirement in 1984 he was still producing a prolific amount of art, and when he died in 1996 he left behind a huge body of work that is now held in collections around the world.

As well as Piech’s powerful and historically important work, visitors to the People’s History Museum will discover how he developed his printmaking techniques which developed from lithography and woodcut, through letterpress using lead type and small carved woodblock printed images to the Artists Books he created as part of the Taurus Press.

a poster featuring an American eagle with President Nixon's face superimposed on it
Paul Peter Piech In Nixon we Trust. Linocut from the Regional Print Centre/Coleg Cambria Collection
a poster with two caricatures of jazz musicians playing a cornet and a saxophone
Paul Peter Piech The history of jazz. Linocut 1995. From the Regional Print Centre/Coleg Cambria Collection
a green poster with a central linocut representation of Martin Luther King
Paul Peter Piech They killed the dreamer but not his dream. Linocut, 1979, from the Regional Print Centre/Coleg Cambria Collection
a photo of three men at drawing tables in an office
Paul Peter Piech (centred) working at Crawford Advertising in the 1950s. Image from Piech Estate Collection
a photo of a man in a basement working on a printing press
Paul Peter Piech working in his studio in Bushey Heath. Image from Piech Estate Collection
  • Dedicated to all Defenders of Human Freedoms: The Art of Paul Peter Piech runs from October 1 until February 12 2017 and is free to enter www.phm.org.uk
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