Hubert Hilscher was a graphic artist and poster and book designer. He was born in 1924 in Warsaw, where he died in 1999.
Grafik, plakacista, projektant książek
Hubert Hilscher was born into a Polonised family of German origin. As a soldier of the Home Army, he fought in the Warsaw Uprising (under the pseudonym ‘Zaremba’, his insurgent biographical note can be found on the website of the Warsaw Rising Museum). Originally it seemed he would become an architect, since he finished a high school for construction trades. He often said that this might have been the reason why he liked geometric and modular motifs and drafting methods of design. Health problems disqualified him from military service as a result of which, luckily, in 1949 he started attending the State Academic School of Plastic Arts, since he was interested in printing. When he was in his second year, the school was merged with the Academy of Fine Arts. He studied under Tadeusz Kulisiewicz and graduated in 1955.
After graduation Hilscher worked for the Art and Graphic Publishing House WAG, which provided patronage for poster artists. Between 1961 and 1970 he was its art director. In 1962, he started working for the bimonthly Projekt, also as an art director, and worked on this position until 1983, when the magazine stopped being published. Hilscher designed posters, books and logotypes (for example for Centrum Department Store in 1967). During the period of martial law in Poland under communist regime, he cooperated with the Warsaw Archdiocese Museum and independent publishing houses (Nowa, Przedświt and Krąg).
He was one of the most colourful and amusing graphic designers of the so-called Polish School of Posters. At the same time he was very restrained and balanced in choosing his artistic means. His colleagues recalled him as a modest, refined man who was utterly focused on his work.
Hilscher’s posters were shown in Vienna (1964), Düsseldorf (1968), Berlin, Bratislava, Prague, Budapest, Sofia (1969), and Royan (1972), among others. His works received a warm welcome and were awarded with a prize at the Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts (1964), a silver medal at Mostra Internazionale di Manifesto Turistico in Milan (1967 and 1970) and the Mayor of the City of Brno Award at the International Poster Biennial (1974). Hilscher was a multiple winner of the Best Poster Prize (1973, 1975, 1980) and the award for the Most Beautiful Book in competitions organised by the Polish Association of Book Publishers.
Hilscher is an important figure in the history of the International Poster Biennale in Warsaw, since he was both its organizer and participant. From 1966 to 1983 he was a member of the Organising Committee. In the interview he gave for Projekt in 1978 he said something which seemed surprising at that time:
I think that the organisers need to find a new formula for the competition which would allow the invitation of not only individual artists but also advertising agencies.
Hilscher was a participant of the first edition of the Biennale in 1965. He presented the poster of the exhibition Warszawa w Dziejach Oręża Polskiego (editor's translation: Warsaw in the History of Polish Arms, 1965). At the fourth Biennale he showed a quasi-secessionist poster Automne de Varsovie and the famous wild roaring cat composed of a blaze of colourful spots. During the fifth edition of the Biennale viewers could see the poster X-ème Festival International d'Art Contemporain and the lettering composition Europa – Polska: Bezpieczeństwo i Współpraca (Europe – Poland: Security and Cooperation). The dove appearing inside the letter ‘O’ in the poster became one of the canonical symbols used by the Polish School of Posters. For the sixth edition Hilscher chose the poster Polish Architecture Summer School: Kaziemierz Dolny, Poland, which showed the artist's typographical interests. In the poster he treated the text as an element of architecture. Hilscher said:
Letters have such beautiful forms that they can often substitute drawings. With the use of a letter in an adequate scale and font, you can actually convey any message.
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Circus by Hubert Hilscher, poster, 1966, photo: courtesy of the Polish Poster Gallery in BUW (University of Warsaw Library)
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At the eighth Biennale the artist presented music posters: he displayed a painting composition Warszawska Jesień '78 and Warszawska Jesień ’79.
Hilscher’s aforementioned works show the main areas of his artistic fascinations: circus, music, typography, and almost three-dimensional compositions.
When talking about the circus, he emphasised the play of realism and deformation:
It seemed to me that a person who goes to the circus to see a trained lion will also want to see it on the poster: a lion that is real but different from the one that can be seen in the zoo. I try to adapt the depictions of animals to the circus environment by the use of unreal colour or movement but still maintaining the realist form. My circus posters are decorative (I create my other works with very simple means), because the circus is decorative as well.
Hilscher’s circus-themed posters are unusually colourful, ridiculing the dullness of the times of Poland under the communist regime. The circus is an escape into the world of illusion, childhood dreams, and colourful crinkum-crankum.
Hilscher was an extremely versatile graphic designer who treated his profession humbly and with respect. He said:
My job is just like that of a printer, a carpenter, or a clerk. This is the way I earn my living. I don’t consider myself an artist.
However, he was aware of the role of applied graphics. This is a fragment of the aforementioned interview for Projekt (issue 3/1978) conducted by Andrzej Matynia:
‘Do you consider yourself a poster designer?’
‘I guess so, despite the fact that I also make booklets, calendars, signs, little graphic forms and design books. I consider myself a commercial artist’.
‘Do you think that the present times favour graphic art?’
‘I believe they do. The applied graphics of course. The modern man is subject to the pressure of visual information. The quality of this artistic creation shapes people’s taste. That’s why the role of the applied graphics is so important’.
polish poster school
Hubert Hilscher died in 1999 at the age of 75. He is buried in Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw.
Originally written in Polish by Sylwia Giżka, November 2010, translated by MW, April 2018.