Photo by Wojciech Łaski/East News

One of the finest printmakers and poster artists of the second half of the 20th century. Born on January 13, 1930 in Lvov, died on January 21, 1996 in Paris

Cieślewicz earned widespread international recognition, exhibiting his works throughout the world. He was one of the founders of the Polish poster school which promoted an aesthetic striving for simplicity and clarity, while urging the use of poetic metaphor and an abundance of modes of expression. His artistic interests included posters, pressing and publishing prints, typography, photography, photomontage and exhibiting. He was a member of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers (ZPAP), the Alliance Graphique International (AGI) and the International Center for the Typographic Arts (ICTA).

In 1943-6, Cieślewicz attended the School of Artistic Industry in Lvov. In 1946, he settled in Opole and worked in the Groszowice cement plant. From 1947 to 1949, he continued his education at Krakow's Fine Arts Lycee and in 1949, he enrolled in the Poster Faculty of the Krakow Fine Arts Academy. There, he studied under Zbigniew Pronaszko, Czesław Rzepiński, Mieczysław Wejman. His graduation project was carried out in the poster studio of Jerzy Karolak and Maciej Makarewicz in 1955. After graduating, he moved to Warsaw to design posters for the Film Distribution Office (CWF), for the WAG state graphic agency and for the Polish Chamber of Foreign Trade. In 1956, he developed (with Wojciech Zamecznik, Józef Mroszczak and Hubert Hilscher) the design for the art magazine "Projekt", for which he later created a few striking covers. He also worked on the design for the monthlies "Ty i Ja" (of which he was the art director in 1959-62) and "Polska", and for the catalogues of the Warsaw Galeria Wspolczesna. In addition, he carried out assignments for WAG, for the Workers' Publishing Co-Operative "Ruch", PIW, "Czytelnik", "Iskry" and WAiF publishing houses as well as for numerous theatres and art organizations. He designed the exhibitions for the Polish pavilions at the fairs in Leipzig (1957) and Moscow (1959), and for the Elektrim pavilion in Bejing (1961) and the Ce-Te-Be pavilion at the Poznań International Fair (1963).

In early 1963, Cieślewicz went to Essen to work on projects for the Krupp publishing house. He then moved to Italy, where he made five decorative panels for display within the production areas of Italsider steelworks in Bagnoli, Piombino, Lovere, Cornigliano and Toranto. In September1963, he moved with his family to Paris, where he was to live and work for the rest of his life. (In 1971, he became a French citizen.) Between 1965-69, he was the art director of "Elle", implementing his own design vision. He also contributed to "Vogue" and developed the designs for the art journal "Opus International", the popular science monthly "VST", the magazine "Musique en Jeu" and the quarterly "Kitsch". He created a number of graphic designs for the Hachette, Ketschum and Hazan publishing houses as well as for Galeries Lafayette and Musée Picasso. He was widely acclaimed for his designs of lavish catalogues for prestigious exhibitions at the Paris Centre Pompidou. He designed posters for the borough of Montreuil, was the art director at the art agency, M.A.F.I.A., designed the Jordan shoes advertising campaign and the "France has talent" campaign. He contributed to the Parisian publishing house of the Pallotin fathers, "Editions du Dialogue". His art was published by the daily "Liberation" and the journals "Revolution" and "l'Autre Journal". He designed and published two issues of the "panic information" journal "Kamikaze I" (1976) and "Kamikaze II" (1991) for the group Panique of which he was a member. From 1973-75 and from 1975-76, he ran the Visual Forms Atelier at the Paris Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs and the graphic arts diploma atelier at the Ecole Supérieure des Arts Graphique. He designed the sets for "Elle"'s fashion show in 1968-71 as well as the architectural aspect of the exhibition L'espace Urbain en Urss, 1917-1978 at the Centre Pompidou in 1978. In 1979, he made the film Change of Climate for the Institut National Audiovisuel in Paris. In 1989, the National Assembly and the French Ministry of Culture asked him to design the decoration for the Assemblée Nationale building to commemorate the bicentennial of the French Revolution. The following year he decorated the Paris Town Hall on the occasion of General Charles de Gaulle's birth centenary. He collaborated with the Warsaw Museum of Literature to organize two exhibitions in Paris: "70 Drawings by Bruno Schulz" (1975) and "Portraits by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz" (1978), an example of his uninterrupted dialogue with Poland's cultural heritage, crowned by a series of Baroque-like posters for the Warsaw Opera (Persefona, Manru, Więzień / The Prisoner, Wierchy / The Summits, Oedipus rex).

When interviewed by an art critic Wiesława Wierzchowska, Cieślewicz said:

"It was my dream to make public pictures that could be seen by as many people as possible. Hence the utmost importance of the poster – the street picture. I had thought about the poster before starting at the Academy. Entering the street. That's extremely important. Given the variety of objects surrounding us, I find an announcement the most important thing. Telling, saying, communicating, announcing. Informing (...) To me a picture could never be separated from the content. I always go for the maximum picture and the maximum information. You need to stimulate imagination to the maximum." (Wiesława Wierzchowska, "Autoportrety / Self-Portraits". Agencja Wydawnicza "Interster", Warsaw 1994)

Cieślewicz's art merges a number of intellectual and emotional threads through close relationships between words and artistic forms to create a language of powerful visions. His works utilize a wide range of artistic means, from the pictures of old masters to contemporary press photography. These unusual associations, sophisticated structures and aggressive expressions are distinctive and arresting. The artist was inspired – especially in his later period – by the Russian constructivist avant-garde of the 1920s and by the Polish group Blok. He frequently used details that he processed and repeated to obtain a bold and unique result. He employed a much enlarged half-tone screen and the mirror picture copying effect, and built on the op-art experience to make his posters seem three-dimensional, vibrating and pulsating. He also invoked the charms of collage and photomontage, recognizing their innovative and fascinating potential of which he made masterful use. Combining romanticism and poetry with cold rationalism, and setting emotions in play with strict logic, his work penetrates our sub-consciousness and tests and teases its associations.

Cieślewicz's finest works include the posters Kamienne niebo / Stony Skies (1959), Manru (1961), Więzien / The Prisoner (1962), Ksiądz Marek / Father Marek (1963), Proces/ The Trial (1964), Dziady / Forefathers' Eve (1967), Arrabal (1968), Cannes (1970), Szewcy / The Cobblers (1971), Zoom (1971), L'attentat (1972), Amnesty International (1975), Gdy rozum śpi / The Sleep of Reason (1976), Roman Cieślewicz (1979), Avec l'enfant (1979), J.M.K. Wścieklica (1979), Paris - Mockba 1900-1930 (1979), Raj utracony / Paradise Lost (1980), ILS (1980), Liberte = Wolność (1981), Presences Polonaises (1983), Roman Cieślewicz "Plakat & Fotomontaż" / "The Poster and the Photomontage" (1981), Angers (1987), Roman Cieślewicz "Retrospektywa" / "Retrospective" (1994), the illustrations to Bruno Schulz's Cinnamon Shops (1963), to Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1975), the photomontage series Monstra / Monstres (1969), Figury Symetryczne / Symmetrical Figures (1971-74), Climate Change (1976).

Cieślewicz has had over one hundred solo exhibitions of prints, photomontage works, posters and photographs, and he has participated in all the major poster presentations in Poland, France and many other countries around the world. His works are in the collections of the National Museums in Warsaw, Krakow, Poznań, Wrocław, in the Museum of Art in Lódź, Poster Museum in Wilanow, Warsaw, in Essen, Lahti, Paris, Colorado, Bayreuth, New York Museum of Modern Art, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Musée d'Arts Décoratifs in Paris, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Library of Congress in the USA, Fagersta Stadsbibliotek in Stockholm, as well as in numerous private collections.

Author: Jerzy Brukwicki, March 2004.
 

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