Mieczysław Wasilewski is a graphic designer, poster creator, and illustrator. He was born on 1st January, 1942 in Warsaw.
Between 1960 and 1966 he studied at the Department of Painting and Graphic Design of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He graduated in 1966 with a diploma from the workshop of Prof. Henryk Tomaszewski. Soon afterwards, he became an assistant to his supervisor, holding this position until 1985. After Prof. Tomaszewski retired, he took over the independent workshop of Graphic Design for the students of graphic techniques of the art academy. He also runs the workshop of graphic design and poster design at the European Academy of Arts in Warsaw. In 1981-82, he was a lecturer at the Damascus University, in 1989 at the College of Applied Arts in Offenbach, while in 1991-92 at the Institute of Applied Arts in Rovanemi and in Helsinki, Finland. He's also lectured at art universities in Arnheim, Groningen, The Hague (The Netherlands), Guadalajara (Mexico), Santiago, La Serena (Chile), and Montréal (Canada). Between 1971 and 1980s, he designed covers for the magazine Problemy. In 1990, he received a professorial degree.
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He has received numerous awards, including a Golden Medal (1976) and Silver Medal (1994) at the International Poster Biennale in Warsaw. He also received a scholarship from the Kościuszko Foundation, and is a member of Alliance Graphique International (AGI). His works are in the collections of the Poster Museum at Wilanów, National Museum in Poznań, Musée de l'Affiche in Paris, Toyama Poster Museum in Tokyo, and many private galleries worldwide.
Mieczysław Wasilewski mastered the art of the concise graphic sign. His posters and covers stand out through their unique style, characterized by a discipline of thought, precise formulation of the theme and its translation into image. The artist is consciously committed to formal sparsity, reduced to black and white graphics. The ascetic range requires the power of expression to be sought in the character of drawing and typography, but is also helpful for topping the anecdote off with a sign or a pictogram. Wasilewski's art is a message expressed simply, without any superfluous ornamentation. It strives towards an extreme condensation and economy of expression, bringing to mind the essence of a literary saying or aphorism. Wasilewski often mentioned in interviews that he thought very highly of Stanisław Jerzy Lec, the master of aphoristic literature and the witty punchline. The artist is most keen on keeping things concise: his compositions are based on a combination of two, at most three basic elements.
The secret of my technique consists in rejecting bad things that come up on the way.
The artist inherited his intellectual (as opposed to sensational) approach to the poster from his mentor, Henryk Tomaszewski, constructing his works as ‘graphic and conceptual charades.’ Wasilewski also composed colour posters, which, similarly to his other pieces, were based on a limited range of colours, although the author is not afraid to introduce bright hue.
In 1975, the artist created an anti-war poster, in which he manipulated the Shakespearean ‘To be or not to be’ by inserting the word ‘war’ as the shadow of ‘or.’
In 1994, Wasilewski received the first prize at the competition for the design of a poster commemorating the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. The winning poster shows a torn Polish flag with the Kotwica – the World War II emblem of the Polish Underground State and the Home Army – painted on it set against a black background.
Wasilewski creates a lot of drawings, treating them as a personal preparation for his later prints – posters, covers, and illustrations. He demonstrates an affinity to the drawings of Matisse and the oriental art of calligraphy. During his stay in Beijing, he observed the drawings of Buddhist monks.
What I have always been fascinated with in those drawings is: the transformation of an object into something which is a nearly deobjectified pictogram; the scope of control and the lack of it – an uninhibited gesture, a surprise, and at the same time a thematic rigor. All of this is the area of my explorations
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Wasilewski's drawing activity is as recognisable as his posters or book graphics. The artist uses mostly a paintbrush and ink, alla prima, i.e. rapidly, with a few, precisely drawn lines. To him, drawing is an act of improvisation, although one that is preceded by many different variations which the artist never reveals to public. His drawing series showing the faces of women, each of which is drawn concisely and calligraphically, and yet perfectly reflects the figures' features and moods. Wasilewski's portraits behave like signs, ideograms of faces which always retain a striking resemblance to the model. His marks are soft, lyrical, sometimes complemented by a wash, a stain, or a decollage and often also by a dose of warm sense of humour. The artist also produces a lot of drawings documenting his everyday life and featuring his children, wife, and friends.
When enlarged, Wasilewski's drawings often turn into posters. The best example of Wasilewski's characteristic lab of ‘creative thought’ are his covers for the Problemy popular science magazine. One could observe among them some of his ideas and graphic solutions that were not yet fully disciplined by a specific thematic framework, but which later would end up as posters.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, Centre for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle, April 2006; update: November 2009. Transl. AM, January 2016