Jan Młodożeniec was one of the most prominent members of the Polish School of Posters. He authored more than four hundred posters, book covers, illustrations, and drawings, and is still recognized for his graphic design and painting talent.
One of the most prominent members of the Polish School of Posters.
Jan Młodożeniec was born on 8th November, 1929 in Warsaw; and died on 12th December, 2000. He was the son of the futurist poet Stanisław Młodożeniec. From 1948 to 1955, he studied graphic and poster design at the Higher Art School in Myśliwecka Street in Warsaw (which later became the Academy of Fine Arts), at Henryk Tomaszewski's studio, who was also his diploma supervisor.
He worked as a graphic designer for the Film Rental Headquarters (Centrala Wynajmu Filmów), Polfilm, Ruch Publishing House, Art and Graphics Publisher (WAG), National Publishing Agency (KAW), a number of theatres in Warsaw, as well as publishing houses: Czytelnik, Iskry, PIW, WAiF, Wydawnictwo Literackie, and magazines: Nowa Kultura (New Culture), Współczesność (Modernity), Ekran (The Screen), Film, Miesięcznik Literacki (The Literature Monthly), Polska (Poland), Szpilki (Pins).
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In 1969, he received the award of the Minister of Culture and Art for achievements in poster design. He also received many other awards in Poland and abroad, such as at the Biennale of Polish Poster in Katowice (1971 – Visitez la Pologne, silver medal; 1977 – Baird, Symphony no. 3, bronze medal; 1981 – The Serpent's Egg ; 1985 – Polish Classics on Poster, honourable medal), gold medal for advertising for Cepeliada'78 at the 8th International Poster Biennale in Warsaw (1980), and at the Poster Biennale in Lathi, Finland (1983 – First Prize). He also repeatedly won the Warsaw's Best Poster Competition.
Jan Młodżoeniec was predominantly engaged in applied design; he had already worked for various publishers before graduating. After finishing art school, he started designing posters, which eventually became his chief medium of expression. He made his most important posters for cinema (e.g. Once Upon a Time in America, The Godfather, The Great Gatsby), theatre (e.g. for plays by Chekhov, Fredro, Wyspiański), and for advertising campaigns.
His first poster (from 1951) was made for the film Praga 1848. By the mid-1950s, Młodożeniec was one of the most acclaimed poster and book designers. He was one of the crucial figures of the Polish School of Posters. He was an outstanding artist with a highly recognizable style. He used to describe the type of posters he created as 'personalized'. As part of this approach, he painted letters by hand, convinced that this way they would better correspond with his compositions. Letters and typography played a significant role in his practice. By applying various typefaces and very plain decorative elements in letter design, Młodożeniec created ornamental and distinctly lyrical word forms. In many of his posters, lettering was used as one of the visual components. Overlapping words and images, the ins and outs of letter design, the significance of font in composition – all of these can be found in almost every poster or drawing by Młodożeniec.
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Młodożeniec was extremely hard working – he would often end up creating numerous variations of the same composition. His style could be immediately recognized by the thick, seemingly uncoordinated, but nevertheless strong lines, a slightly childlike form, vivid range of colours, and a comforting sense of humour. His posters had a characteristically smooth and balanced composition, based on clearly separated patches of colour, and intrinsically monumental graphic forms. The artist paid close attention to the legibility of the signs he used – his attempts to broaden the meaning carried by a poster resulted in deeply synthetic graphic effects. His works emanated with lyrical expression, tinged with vernacular simplicity and naïveté. Młodożeniec's output was profoundly rooted in the national folk culture, and yet his expressive language was thoroughly modern and inspired by various contemporary art trends (represented by the likes of Léger, Picasso, Braque, Matisse, or Klee).
Młodożeniec's means of expression were straightforward – he paid a lot attention to the transparency of his works. He was the master of a synthetic, condensed style. His visual jargon went beyond being purely informative – it had predominantly poetic values, in a way that inspired the imagination. His posters for such films as The Serpent's Egg, Klute, and The Conformist entered the history of cinema, just like his visual film commentaries, or, more precisely, mini-reviews published in Film and Miesięcznik Literacki.
Yet another part of Młodożeniec's oeuvre were his illustrations and book covers, such as to Marek Hłasko's A First Step in the Clouds (1956), The Pearl by Steinbeck (published in 1956), The Taming of the Shrew by Sheakespeare (published in 1972), and Cronopios and Famas by Julio Cortázar (published in 1974). His book covers always bore a poster-like look. He often used text as one of the materials, a graphic symbol. His designs were striking thanks to the cutting edge drawing style, lyrical air, and narrative boldness.
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Młodożeniec, primarily recognized as a graphic designer, was also a great painter. He liked small format paintings (A4), using simple techniques, such as tempera, very often on ordinary notebook paper. His colourful paintings on paper or canvas consisted of vibrant constellations of stains and lines, always subordinated to some kind of internal discipline. Just like in his works on paper, the saturated colour patches were surrounded by a black outline, with occasional dots and lines appearing here and there. Młodożeniec wrote in his biography:
I have been painting a lot recently. I consciously try to paint smiling, joyful things, where colour is the main focus, and the fact that they are fish, birds, butterflies, buttons, sundries, panegyrics to art – that's my business. I dream of non-figurative paintings. Just colour. Every colour is good, it only requires an appropriate surrounding.
In his later years, Młodożeniec painted works suffused with lyrical humour, in which he told a story about everyday life, from the perspective of a sparrow. He identified with that common bird, and signed his works as Jan Moineau, i.e. John Sparrow.
His works can be found in the collections of Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Kunstbibliothek in Berlin, Bibliotheque Forney and Musee d'Arts Decoratifs in Paris, Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a wide number of private collections in Poland and abroad.
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Selected solo exhibitions:
- 1962 – Warsaw, Kordegarda Gallery
- 1963 – Vienna, Galerie in der Biberstrasse
- 1969 – Warsaw, Dom Artysty Plastyka
- 1971 – Przemyśl, National Museum of the Przemyśl Region
- 1978 – Berlin, Galerie am Prater
- 1979 – Poznań, The National Museum
- 1980 – Białystok, The Bureau of Art Exhibitions/BWA
- 1981 – Zamość, The Bureau of Art Exhibitions/BWA
- 1983 – Lathi, Finland
- 1984 – Warsaw-Wilanów, The Poster Museum
- 1986 – Warsaw, The Young Gallery/Galeria Młodych
- 1991 – Essen, Deutsches Plakat Museum
- 1993 – Sandomierz, The Regional Museum
- 1998 – Kraków, Zderzak Gallery
Author: Ewa Gorządek, CCA Ujazdowski Castle, February 2005, transl. Ania Micińska, April 2015