These 6 legendary artists defined the world-renowned Polish School of Posters, famous for its iconic and symbolic aesthetic.
Jan Młodożeniec was one of the crucial figures of the Polish School of Posters. He worked as a graphic designer for numerous film distributors, theatres, publishing houses and magazines. His works have won awards both in Poland and abroad. His posters for such films as The Serpent's Egg, Klute and The Conformist quickly became a part of the history of cinema, just like his visual film commentaries, or, more precisely, mini-reviews published in Film and Miesięcznik Literacki.
He was an outstanding artist with a highly recognisable style. This style was characterised by the thick, seemingly uncoordinated, but nevertheless strong lines, a slightly childlike form, a vivid range of colours and a comforting sense of humour. As part of his approach, he painted letters by hand, convinced that this way they would better correspond with his compositions. Overlapping words and images, the ins and outs of letter design, the significance of font composition – all of these can be found in almost every poster or drawing by Młodożeniec.
Waldemar Świerzy, who belongs to the select group of Poland's finest poster artists, was one of the founders of the Polish School of Posters in the 1960s and 1970s. He produced more than 1,500 posters – a number which is impressive and may make him a record holder. Many of them have been tremendously popular; the 1954 Mazowsze poster had a million copies printed. While his main focus has been culture (theatre, film, the circus and music), he has not shunned social and sports themes.
Over his lengthy and productive career, Świerzy experimented with many different styles. He was the first to introduce elements of painting to poster art – and remained forever faithful to them. This may explain why his posters are invariably easy to recognize despite their stylistic diversity. Świerzy combined elements of lyrical abstraction, Art Nouveau and pop-art with folk art and naïve paintings. In the 1970s, he turned towards portrait art and became internationally famous with his poster portraits of musicians, including his Great Jazzmen series.
Henryk Tomaszewski was a poster and graphic artist, as well as a professor at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts Poster Studio, where he taught young students from around the world. The strength of his graphic works lies in a simple and intelligent translation of messages and symbols from literary, theatrical, film, music and social themes into a visual language. He himself admitted to 'a lifetime search for such signs which would be comprehensible to everyone.’
Many of Tomaszewski's works have become world poster classics, such as the theatre posters Król Edyp (Oedipus The King, 1961), Hamlet (1962), Witkacy (1972), Amadeusz (Amadeus, 1981), Manekiny (Mannequins, 1985); the film posters Symfonia Pastoralna (1947), Obywatel Kane (Citizen Kane, 1948), Rewizor (The Inspector General, 1953), and the exhibition posters Wzornictwo Przemysłowe Wielkiej Brytanii (Industrial Design of The United Kingdom, 1963) and Teresa Pągowska (1986).
Jan Lenica's work defines one of the key chapters in the history of Polish art of the second half of the 20th century. His fame and recognition in Poland as well as international acclaim was earned by his poster art and animated films, the two areas in which he was considered one of the world's finest artists. He is regarded as a forerunner of modern animation.
Altogether, Lenica made over 200 posters. Among his finest works is Wozzeck which was made in 1964 for Alban Berg's opera and won the Grand Prix at the Poster Biennial in Warsaw in 1966. It shows a huge red head with wide-open lips in the middle of the face. One gets the impression that the scream coming out of the throat reverberates, wave-like, in the concentric circles repeating the shape of the lips. Another famous poster, made in 1968 for Giuseppe Verdi's Otello, shows an oval blue and violet form cut through by short, horizontal rhythms of black lines.
Roman Cieślewicz earned widespread international recognition, exhibiting his works throughout the world. Early in his career, he worked for various Polish organisations and magazines, designing works for the Film Distribution Office (CWF), the WAG state graphic agency, the Polish Chamber of ForeignTrade, the art magazine Projekt and the monthlies Ty i Ja and Polska. Later, he moved to Germany and Italy before finally settling in France, where he worked for Vogue and Elle.
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 utilise a wide range of artistic means, from the pictures of old masters to contemporary press photography. The artist was inspired – especially in his later period – by the Russian constructivist avant-garde of the 1920s and by the Polish art group Blok. He frequently used details that he processed and repeated to obtain a bold and unique result.
Between the 1950s and the 1980s, Wiktor Górka worked with the biggest Polish publishers and film distributors. He designed posters (nearly 300), book and magazine covers, commercial logos and prints. His posters and projects were awarded in the most important Polish and international competitions. He received second prize in a national competition for the poster Six-year Plan (1949), second prize at the International Film Poster Competition in Karlovy Vary (1962), first prize at the International Competition for Tourist Posters in Berlin (1967), Silver Medal at the Second Polish Poster Biennial in Katowice (1967) and others.
Górka created posters for films such as: Spartacus, Beatrice Cenci, Two for the Seesaw, How Far, How Near, The Great Escape, Twilight of the Gods, One Man Band, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Sleepy Hollow and Marathon Man. His most famous work is the poster design for the cult film Cabaret (1973) directed by Bob Fosse with the memorable performance of Liza Minelli. The poster depicts cabaret dancers’ legs in black stockings as well as Joel Grey’s face in daring makeup, which together form the shape of a swastika.
Editor’s note: The best place to learn more about Polish poster art is the Poster Museum at Wilanów. A division of the National Museum of Warsaw – founded in 1996, with the launch of the International Poster Biennale – it preserves and presents works which have been collected since before the Second World War. The museum offers about 10 exhibitions per year in Wilanów, a beautiful district in the south of the Polish capital, as well as numerous resources available online – and is the oldest poster museum in the world! Check out their website here.