As one of the first post-war adepts, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw at the Graphic Design Faculty (under Józef Mroszczak) and Painting Faculty (under Jan Cybis) from 1945 to 1951. He debuted in 1950. In 1953, he began didactic work at the Typography Workshop of the academy. He became a professor in 1964. From 1968, he was the head of the Typography Design Department. Between 1972 and 1980, he was the academy's rector. Beginning in 1993 and up to his death, he was the head of the Graphic Design Department of the European Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He was a member of ZAIKS and the Poster Museum's Artistic-Programme Board. He worked with Centrala Wynajmu Filmów, Wydawnictwo Artystyczno-Graficzne and theatres in Warsaw.
He received numerous awards from abroad – Canada (1960), Milan (1961), Denmark (1963), Italy (1964), Sweden (1965), Helsinki (1955), France (1965), and Leipzig (1965) – and in Poland – at the Polish Poster Biennale in Katowice (1967), International Poster Biennale (1968), the National Illustration, Poster and Small Form Exhibition (Warsaw, 1955), in the competition for the poster for the International Poznań Expo (1955), the Auschwitz Memorial competition (1959), the Polish Fine Art Work competition for the 15th anniversary of Poland under the communist regime, the MKiS award for exhibition work, and the RSW Prasa president's award at the Warsaw Biennale (for the design of the Our Age triptych). In 1955, he was given honourable awards by the National Award Committee for his poster works, especially for Peace Congress in Helsinki and Rome, 11th hour (1953).
Pałka mainly designed posters and exhibitions. He created around 100 posters and the same number of exhibition, museum, and event projects, for example, for Polish pavilions in Beijing (1953), Damascus (1954), Casablanca (1955), Milan and Barcelona (1960), Turin (1961), Leipzig (1959, 1964), Moscow (1965, 1969, 1974), Thessaloniki (1969), and for the Poznań expo. Apart from that, he did book graphic design and typography, spatial design (memorials), film (graphic design for Ludwik Perski's documentary On Warsaw, but in a Different Way, 1960), and theatre (scenography for Leon Kruczkowski’s The First day of Freedom directed by Tadeusz Łomnicki, 1976).
In 1965, with Henryk Tomaszewski, he designed a 1000 zloty 150x75 mm banknote with Copernicus's effigy on it, issued to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Poland's existence. This banknote, which is the most valuable Polish banknote produced so far, was in circulation from 31st December, 1978.
Pałka's posters were never ornamental or amusing. Thoughtful, depressing compositions from the 1950s amazed with the power of symbolic items – the attributes of unreal, dreamy characters (Lady de Scudery, Comediants, 1956). Over the years, the artist reduced his palette and means of expression, he stood against the 'visual chaos' – these were his principles. The role of the information scheme (Conférence Internationale des Travailleurs…, 1959) and the typography (Peace Race, 1962) gained greater importance. Pałka's posters were becoming symbolic. Martyrological designs – the triptych Our Age (1965) and the Oświęcim-Brzezinka poster (1967) are brimming with a grim, tense atmosphere resulting from the scarcity of means of expression, use of symbols and a contrasting juxtaposition of a cold, mathematical theme with the image of a human face. In 1970, during a solo exhibition in Warsaw's Wilanów district, Pałka proposed a spatial, upscaled (to a human size) continuation of the triptych. Earlier, in 1969, he came up with an innovative solution – the modular poster series Polish Utility Art for the 25th anniversary of Poland under the communist regime. Every poster in the series was dedicated for a separate area of design and together they formed a whole.
Pałka's most famous monument design is Road made for the museum in Auschwitz-Brzezinka in 1957. Alongside Pałka, Oskar and Zofia Hansens, Jerzy Januszkiewicz, Edmund Kupiecki, and Lechosław Rosiński also worked on the project. It was innovative because of the unseen-at-the-time concept of an open monument – an arranged sculpture and not a cube. The design's axis was the asphalt-laden road going through the deteriorated grounds. However, the design was not implemented. Hanry Moore was a member of the jury in the competition.
Adam Myjak, the rector of the Academy of Fine Arts, said the following about Pałka:
He was one of the linchpins of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. When asked about notable graphic designer-pedagogues, I automatically gave his name next to Henryk Tomaszewski's. He had a grand personality and at the same time was a caring, modest man. After he retired, he visited our students' exhibition every year.
Julian Pałka died of cancer on 20th June, 2002, on the night just before the academy students' opening, which he was supposed to take part in. He was buried in the Pyry Cemetery in Warsaw. In September 2002, Julian Pałka was posthumously awarded the Commander's Cross of Polonia Restituta.
Mariusz Knorowski, Julian Pałka. Przeciw Wizualnemu Chaosowi [in:] "2+3D", 3/2003.
Written by Sylwia Giżka, Dec 2006, translated by Patryk Grabowski, Jun 2018