The world-famous Polish School of Posters combined the aesthetics of painting with sharp metaphor implicit in the art. The painterly gestures, humour and strong individual personality of each author speaks through every piece. These are the traits that made the school a pioneer of blurring the designer-artist distinction.
Decades later, young talents from across Poland continue with a vibrant style of their own, worthy of their predecessors. The power of suggestion and cheeky allusion lives on. Here is a subjective selection of great poster art, old and new.
Mieczysław Wasilewski, Kontakt Theatre Festival Poster
Born in 1942, Mieczysław Wasilewski is a master of the succinct who studied under Henryk Tomaszewski, the pioneer founder of the Polish Poster School. For the annual theatre festival he created an image that doesn't leave viewers at ease…
Aleksandra Niepsuj's Debt
Ola Niepsuj's playful designs appeal to both children and adults through their wit, dark humour, and ambiguity all contained at once in a few simple symbols. By animating letters and elements around them, she formulates humorous comments on cultural issues in a comprehensible way, at the same time deeply embedding them in the Polish design heritage. The above chosen example was created for the DEBT. Contemporary Polish Poster and Illustration on the subject of Debt exhibition, held at Living Theatre, New York City in 2012. As Niepsuj admits, she is a fan of the Polish School of Poster, and especially names such as Jan Młodożeniec, Henryk Tomaszewski, Wojciech Zamecznik, or Wiktor Górka. Outside of posters, Niepsuj's original mind also works on designs for removable tatoos for adults…
To Be Or Not To Be? by Mieczysław Wasilewski
This here is Wasilewski's wit combined with typographic skill, leaving any commentary superfluous.
Anna Niesterowicz: Debt As Memory
Born in 1974, Anna Niesterowicz often focuses on codes and hidden meanings in objects and memory. She works in video art, illustration, sculptures and installations, and here we see her take on the theme of debt as memory, combining it with the play on words Love, L -Owe (what adds to the playfulness is the fact that the letter "w" is pronouced like "v" in Polish). Niesterowicz also uses her own childhood memories and found footage in her video works.
Roman Cieślewicz's poster for Zezowate Szczęście
Working first in Warsaw and then in Paris, Roman Cieślewicz was at the heart of artistic life in both cities. Spanning a career that bridged the Cold War division of Europe, he brought surrealist fantasy to the solid visual culture of communist Poland and, when he arrived in Paris in 1963, he contributed a critical perspective on the consumerist influence of the West.
Glissando performance poster by Bartosz "Arobal" Kociemba
Arobal, who has no formal art education, studied Political Science at the University of Wrocław for a few years, before falling in love and moving to Warsaw. Of his work, he says, "We live in a time when things are more functional and edgy than beautiful. Beauty is lost and there is a lot of ugliness around. I try to bring elements of a romantic understanding of beauty back to everyday life".
Waldemar Świerzy's Red Inn Poster
One of the founding fathers of the Polish Poster School, Waldemar Świerzy, who passed away in December 2013, may not need an introduction… Our pick here, advertising Claude Autant-Lara's film, The Red Inn, won the 1959 Grand Prix Toulouse-Lautrec at the 1st International Film Poster Exhibition in Versailles. It seems to predict the painterly strokes that later developed into his unique and world-famous jazzy style.
Man of Iron by Andrzej Pągowski
Born in 1953, Andrzej Pągowski is a graduate of the University of Arts in Poznań at the Poster Studio, under Professor Waldemar Świerzy. He is a poster artist and one of the most celebrated Polish graphic designers. Wajda’s film became an important record of that unusual time. Man of Iron was a celebrated feature even before it was made.
Łukasz Rayski's Debt of Gratitude
Łukasz Rayski was born in 1982 and he is a graduate of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts' Graphic Department. His poster, created for the NYC exhibit on the theme of debt, is somewhat evocative of Keith Haring's aesthetic.
Leszek Hołdanowicz's poster for The Hands Over The City
This wonderful image is so 1960s, and yet it pertains in the memory. Leszek Hołdanowicz created an award-winning poster for an award-winning film, "The Hands Over The City". Try and trace the shapes of intertwined fingers in those lines…!
Małgorzata Gurowska's Public Playing
Minimal, clean, powerful and contemporary — this is how we would describe the graphic designs of Gurowska. She is a graduate and employee of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. Gurowska creates videos, installations, and works as an illustrator and designer. She is co-creator of the Sztuczna (Fictious) Foundation in Warsaw.
Dawid Ryski Announces Franz Ferdinand Gig
Ryski's vintage aesthetics have proven to be perfect for magazine illustration, CD covers, and concert posters. The very first poster he created announced a music gig. Ryski also plays in a punk band called The Black Tapes, with whom he has toured across all of Poland's major festivals since 2006.
Małgorzata Gurowska's The Young From Warsaw
Another minimalist, telling image from Gurowska. The "king" here is wobbly, yet seems very proud. Just like "The Young from Warsaw"? The poster announced an exhibit under this title, which introduced 20 visual artists from Warsaw in Łódź.
The White Marriage. Franciszek Starowieyski
Franciszek Starowieyski is known for his expressive imagery, filled with the lusty and the decaying. The phallic image here announces a staging of White Marriage based on the play by Tadeusz Różewicz. For a number of years Starowieyski - a painter, illustrator, printmaker, poster artist, and theatre and TV set designer - divided his time between the ateliers of Warsaw and Paris, making some 300 posters and earning his name as one of the finest representatives of the Polish school of posters. He was also a collector with great knowledge of 17th-century art.
Bronisław Zelek's poster for Hunger
Bronisław Zelek created a horrible image for the horrible and, at the time, completely revolutionary picture. The soundtrack for Hunger, directed by Henning Carlsen, was also created by a Pole, the legendary jazz musician Krzysztof Komeda.
Gurowska's poster for Zbliżenie by Piotr Wysocki
Gurowska created a poster for the 2008 installation/film screening of Wysocki's Close-Up. A graduation piece, the film featured a fiercely reciting unknown poet Irena Zielińska. It was shown in a closed-down movie theatre. The poster is daring in its minimalism. Printed in the off-set technique in real life, the form that looks creamy-greyish on the screen was marked as a subtle difference in texture, with off-white paint applied onto white paper.
Highnoon of 1989 first democratic elections by Tomasz Sarnecki
This Solidarity election poster was made by Sarnecki, based on Marian Stachurski's 1959 Polish ad of the American western High Noon.
Jan Lenica's poster for Wozzeck
An iconic poster, Jan Lenica's work is in the MoMa collection, among others. The graphic artist took an interest in many other genres. He was also a noted director of animated films, which he started to work on with Walerian Borowczyk.
Rosemary's Baby poster by Andrzej Pągowski
A creepy and very… 1980s poster from 1968 for the picture that requires no introduction. Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby.
The Sizzling Sticks of Waldemar Świerzy
The jazzy Świerzy style at its peak. The artist is said to have claimed that his way of making posters is just like jazz. He takes up a theme and plays in his own way. As a result, these here Sizzling Sticks, indeed.
Written by Paulina Schlosser, 14/03/2014