Wiesław Rosocha works in poster design, drawing, graphic arts, illustration, and book design. He was born in 1945 in Sokołów Podlaski.
In 1969-1974, he studied at the Graphic Arts Faculty of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He received a diploma from Prof. Henryk Tomaszewski’s workshop of poster design. In 1975-1978, he worked at the Academy as an assistant in the painting workshop ran by Teresa Pągowska.
During the martial law, he collaborated with clandestine publications and participated in independent art life as he boycotted the official state-supported activities. In 1984-1989, as well as later, he took part in exhibitions organised by Janusz Bogucki and Nina Smolarz, such as Apokalipsa. Światło w ciemności (The Apocalypse: a Light in the Darkness), Wieczerza, czyli Widzialne i Niewidzialne (The Supper, or the Visible and the Invisible), Powiększanie wyobraźni. Łączenie podzielonego (Expanding the Imagination: Combining the Divided). The latter was accompanied by the first Polish art billboard created by Wiesław Rosocha. In 1990, he cooperated with the Orange Alternative while it was active in Warsaw.
Over the years, the artist collaborated with many theatres – the Grand Theatre (Warsaw), Opera Nova (Bydgoszcz), Teatr Rozrywki (Chorzów), Wybrzeże Theatre (Gdańsk), Nowy Theatre (Łódź), Szwedzka 2/4 Theatre, Lothe LachmannVideoteatr Poza, and Studio Theatre (Warsaw). Moreover, the artist worked with a range of publishing houses in Poland and abroad (such as Czytelnik, PIW, Iskry, Albrecht Knaus, Hayakawa, Giunti Blu, and Tyto Alba), social and cultural magazines: Charaktery and Tygodnik Powszechny, as well as extras for the daily newspapers Rzeczpospolita and Gazeta Wyborcza.
Wiesław Rosocha’s artistic stance and life choices were initially influenced by his need for a close contact with his immediate socio-political and cultural reality. This was apparent already in his diploma piece, which included works related to – as he wrote – a critical observation of reality, titled Łatwo zrobić dziurę w całym (It’s Easy to Make a Hole in a Whole – a title referring to a Polish customary saying), Tak krawiec kraje, jak mu materiału staje (One Must Cut One's Coat According to One's Cloth), and Przerwa herbatowa (Tea Break).
While temporarily fascinated with Jerzy Kosiński, Rosocha designed ten illustrations, which in 1991 he published as three posters, and in 1993 – on postcards. As the artist says, these works did not so much refer to the novel Malowany ptak (The Painted Bird), but rather to the entire figure of Kosiński.
As one of his following auteur projects, the artist published two posters between 1999 and 2000 – one which was a summary of the 20th century, and the other one trying to envision the near future of the third millennium. After 2000, single posters and short series were published through screen printing or digitally: Węgry 56 (Hungary), Nie zabijaj (Thou Shalt Not Kill), Wciąż masz chamie złoty róg, wciąż masz chamie czapkę z piór (Peasant, You Still Have the Golden Horn, Peasant, You Still Have the Feathered Cap), and Hommage a Henryk Tomaszewski. Demonstrating a strong feeling of independence as a graphic designer, and being involved in poster design and illustration, Rosocha, not only selected the commissioned projects, but also conceived his own.
The externally commissioned works usually do not contain lettering in the sketch phase (the inscriptions are not added until the printing stage), which enables the artist to blur the boundary between fine and applied arts. This is why his hand-made drawings, created without the use of computer, and coloured collages act as autonomous works. This is owed to the clear, colouristically sophisticated form and the wealth of the artist’s imagination, which allow for a multi-faceted interpretation of his works.
The artist’s own, unique graphic language combines the metaphorical, surreal, and emotional perception of the world with a constantly alive and fertile tradition of level-headed reasoning, whose result – in the words of Janusz Stanny – is a ‘work based on precisely developed elements which define the goal of this piece.’ A watchful observer will notice the impeccable design of the composition’s elements, paired with exquisitely mastered craft of painting and graphic design. The artist usually places a clear and powerful graphic sign in the centre of the composition, most frequently referring to the figure of human head (or a full silhouette), subjected to less or more transformation, but normally not deformation (e.g. Trzy siostry / Three Sisters, 1993; Czarodziejski flet / The Magic Flute, 1994; Zestaw podróżny do śmierci / Death Kit, 1995; Hommage á Hoffmann, 2005; Nie zabijaj / Thou Shalt Not Kill, 2006). Sometimes, a human head is visually fused with a bird head or an entire bird figure (the poster series Akuszerzy / Accoucheurs, 1998; Malowany ptak / The Painted Bird – a series of illustrations and a poster, 1988-1991; Satyrykon'96 / Satyricon’96, 1996). It appears that the key to reading the above-mentioned works (and many others) is the motif of an eye which seems to be staring from behind the picture, piercing subsequent layers of colours and symbols; it is the glance which occupies a sphere of transcendental reality, connecting it with the viewer – the audience.
The artist maintains an exceptionally precise drawing style, complemented and enhanced by suggestive edges of forms emerging from underneath one another, which often confirm his artful use of the collage technique. The velvet tones of large surfaces of black and grey, dusty pink, and off-blue, are often very subtly shaded, while at other times they stand out through contrast with an adjacent bright coloured stain. The symbolic approach to colour allows the viewer to discern between the realities brought together on the surface of paper: the sensory and extrasensory ones, along with their layering and mutual complementation, dialogue and rivalry.
Rosocha penetrates those spheres of visual imagination which proves akin to prose by Bruno Schulz, Alfred Kubin, and Jerzy Kosiński – onerous, sensual writing, saturated with dark mystery and perverse eroticism. It is no surprise, then, that Rosocha’s stylistic and metaphorical trademark is his series of illustrations to The Painted Bird by Kosiński (1988), based on a sophisticated range of blacks, greys, and whites, which the artist uses to merge a human body with a bird’s silhouette in the erotic installments.
On the other hand, in the series of posters dedicated to Henryk Tomaszewski (Hommage à Henryk Tomaszewski, 2008-2009), in which he pays an homage to his master, Rosocha interprets the titular theme through a sophisticated and whimsical approach to the physiognomy of the father of the Polish School of Posters – with all his characteristic, distinct features: the bald head, round glass frames, bushy eye brows.
Wiesław Rosocha has won many awards. Among others, he was the recipient of the First Prize from the Polish Association of Book Publishers (PTWK) for the Most Beautiful Book of 1980 for his graphic design of Abelard i Heloiza (Abélard and Héloïse) by Romuald Duncan (Czytelnik, Warsaw), a gold medal at the 6th Poster Bienniale in Lahti for Hamlet designed for the Ateneum Theatre (1985), gold medal at the 6th International Exhibition ‘ The Art Directors Club’ in New York for posters from the series Accoucheurs (1992), the Józef Mroszczak Award at the 15th International Poster Bienniale in Warsaw for Death Kit by Susan Sontag for the Rozmaitości Theatre (1996), Grand Prix at the 1st Biennale of Illustration in Aki Town (Japan) for a series of illustrations (2001), Yusaku Kamekura International Design Award at the 8th International Triennial of Poster in Toyama (Japan) for his auteur posters from the series Hommage á Henryk Tomaszewski (2009), gold medal at the 24th International Poster Biennale in Warsaw, and at the 11th International Triennial of Poster in Toyamafor the poster Rosocha. Inne obszary, inne formaty (Rosocha: Other Spheres, Other Formats) (2014 and 2015).
The artist’s major solo exhibitions took place in Warsaw galleries: Ściana Wschodnia Gallery (1977), Graphic Art and Poster Gallery (Galeria Grafiki i Plakatu) (1993), Pokaz Gallery (1994 and 2009), Studio Gallery (2004), Green Gallery (2005), at the Relaks café (2016) and in Ostrów Wielkopolski at the Regional Contemporary Art Gallery (2013), as well as in Japan – at the Creation Gallery G8 in Tokyo (1995), and at the Museum of Modern Art in Toyama (2009), in Finland – Taidejulistegalleria in Helsinki (2001), in Hungary – at the Polish Institute in Budapest (2005), and in Lithuania – at the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum (2010). In 2003, Wiesław Rosocha was a member of the jury at the 7th International Triennial of Poster in Toyama.
In 2005, he received the brown medal of the Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis.
Information about the artist’s oeuvre can be found in catalogues of his exhibitions, anthologies on contemporary Polish poster, as well as in texts: “Wiesław Rosocha” by Naboru Matsuura, published in the Creation magazine (1993, no. 19, p. 50), "Wiesiek Rosocha" by Peter Gyllan in Novum: World of Graphic Design (2001, no. 7, p. 62), and "Graficzne baśnie Wiesława Rosochy" by Piotr Dumała on the Laboratorium Więzi website .
Author: Artur Tanikowski, November 2009; update (based on artist’s materials): NS, April 2017; translated by AM, August 2017.