The Polish Poster School that evolved in the centrally planned economy of Poland under the communist regime was largely free of the rigours posters are subject to in free-market economies – its artistic quality was of more concern than its advertising power. Here we take a look at seven posters for well-known Hollywood films, made by Polish graphic designers of the Polish Poster School. We guarantee they’re nothing like their counterparts from other countries!
Citizen Kane by Henryk Tomaszewski
What we have here is a pioneering work of the Polish Poster School, made in 1948 by one of Poland’s most recognised graphic artists Henryk Tomaszewski. Two years earlier, Tomaszewski, born in 1914, began making posters for Film Polski (translated as Polish Film), the state film distributor of Poland under the communist regime, under the condition that he be allowed to artistically interpret the illustrated films’ subject matter rather than be limited to simply making an advert. This poster for Citizen Kane (Obywatel Kane in Polish), with its, at the time, highly innovative collage form, which evokes scattered strips of film. They most likely reference the film’s non-linear narrative.
Sunset Boulevard by Waldemar Świerzy
Like Tomaszewski, Waldemar Świerzy is one of the early greats of the Polish Poster School. Born in 1931, he created this poster for Sunset Boulevard (Bulwar Zachodzącego Słońca) directed by Polish-born Billy Wilder in 1957. In the late 1950s, Świerzy became influenced by abstractionism which prompted him to create dynamic and bold compositions displaying his affection for painting, an art form he had learned as an art student. However, the artist created eye-catching posters not only because of his appreciation of the art trends of the time but also for a reason he once explained in the following words:
The poster is an art form that must provoke the viewer to look. It must focus his attention, if only for a few moments.
Sleeping Beauty by Hanna Bodnar
Born in 1929, Hanna Bodnar is the author of numerous posters for children’s films, which often have a bright, cheerful colour schemes. But this particular work from 1962, illustrating Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (Śpiąca Królewna) is placidly blue, melancholic one could say – even the princess’ hair is blue, not blonde like in the film. The overall coolness of the colour scheme is interrupted almost solely by the pink of the cheeks – a colour that points to the happy ending when the princesses’ wedding gown is magically turned from blue to pink by one of the three fairies (visible in the poster’s upper right-hand corner). The event symbolically marked the end of the protagonist’s troubles or blues. So maybe this elegant poster isn’t all that melancholic after all.
Vanishing Point by Andrzej Bertrandt
Although the painter, architect and graphic designer Andrzej Bertrandt, born in 1938, made only 27 posters (Waldemar Świerzy authored over fifteen hundred) he still managed to make an impact on the poster scene in Poland. This 1972 poster for Vanishing Point (Znikający Punkt in Polish) showcases the use of stripes; a device also employed in Bertrandt’s earlier poster for Southern Star, a work he believes strongly influenced Polish graphic design. In an interview for Wikiradio he explained:
I ‘infected’ the entire country, I started a trend. Maybe you can remember that visual artists (I’m not one myself) who decorated shop windows would paint as many stripes as they could. They could’ve painted flowers but they painted stripes, that went on for a couple of years...
Cabaret by Wiktor Górka
This 1972 poster for the film Cabaret (Kabaret) is the work of one of Poland’s leading graphic designers Wiktor Górka. It was, and to a certain extent still is, an international sensation – you can read about it for example on the websites of Wired and the Smithsonian Institution, the latter mentions it as an example of an iconic poster, humorous and carrying a layered meaning. You can find a similar opinion in the 2015 book on Polish graphic design VeryGraphic: Polish Designers of the 20th Century published by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, where we read:
It is indeed the best-ever representation of Bob Fosse movie’s main message – tracing the rise of fascism through the optics of a night club. In this poste, the unusual collision of horror and slightly forced humour found maximum artistic expression, with an enormous power to influence.
The Return of the Pink Panther by Edward Lutczyn
Edward Lutczyn is usually associated with his prolific work as a satirical newspaper draftsman, but this versatile graphic artist has also illustrated over a hundred children’s books, made album covers, designed postage stamps and much, much more. His hefty oeuvre also includes the fruits of his forays into poster design, among which we find this 1977 poster for The Return of The Pink Panther (Powrót Różowej Pantery). It seems only natural that Lutczyn put his sense of humour to use illustrating a comedy film, which resulted in this cheerfully confusing poster: instead of a pink panther, there’s a leopard wearing a mask and hat. But what at first glance appears to be no more than a joke, it actually echoes the disguised diamond robber at the centre of the movie’s plot.
Alien by Jakub Erol
In this poster for Ridley Scott’s Alien (Obcy – 8 Pasażer Nostromo) we also see a mask or at least something disturbing that looks a bit like one. One who hasn’t seen the film might well be intrigued by it, however, one who has seen it will quickly realise that the shape references one of the horrific creatures in the movie: the one that covers a human’s face to implant a lethal parasitic alien in their body. Just as a mask alters its wearer, so does the creature, the only difference being that it alters them permanently – resulting in death.
The interpretative character of this 1980 poster by the graphic artist Jakub Erol, who studied under Henryk Tomaszewski, shows that he adopted his teacher’s appreciation of posters which have a creative take on a film’s subject matter.
Auhtor: Marek Kępa, September 2017