WHY POLISH POSTERS?
At a glance, Polish posters are impressive in their avant-garde style, their amazing variety, and their sheer number of images. Poster collectors might wonder how this art form came to be. A brief glimpse at the history of Poland after WWII helps explain how the Polish School of Posters evolved.
From left to right: Cyrk, (Mona Lisa), Maciej Urbaniec, 1972; Ride the High Country, Maciej Hibner, 1968; Tosca, Jerzy Czerniawski, 1985; Jazz Jamboree '88 - 30th International Jazz Festival, Waldemar Swierzy, 1990
The Soviets established control over Poland after the Second World War. Their authoritarian oversight affected all aspects of Polish life as the country reeled from the devastating aftermath of the war. Ironically, it was this regime that promoted the poster industry. The Communist government encouraged the creation of posters as a propaganda tool to brighten the war-torn landscape and promote cultural efforts. Polish artists, having no other creative outlets, latched onto posters as a medium for expression and gainful employment. Governmental censorship was active in control of political expression, but cared little about what the posters actually looked like. Artists exploited this lack of scrutiny for their own creative ends and were frequently able to surreptitiously communicate anti-government messages. Thus began an incredible output of poster art.
Unlike posters from Western Europe, whose style is based on when they were conceived (e.g. Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modernism), there is no one style of Polish posters. A partial explanation is because artists were not under the typical commercial demands of businesses commissioning the posters. Basically, each artist had free rein to produce posters in their own artistic style. By the end of the 1950s, The Warsaw Academy of Arts had established a formal department of poster arts.
TOPICS OF POLISH POSTERS
Most cultural events warranted the production of a poster: films (both domestic and foreign), theater productions, cultural movements, musical productions, and exhibitions. Established artists created a wealth of unique posters and stimulated the creation of new, younger, poster artists.
Cyrk (circus) posters, since the end of WWII, had been a major genre of the Polish poster movement. In 1962 the state circus agency issued a call for poster artists to specifically apply their creative talents to Cyrk posters.
Left: Cyrk, (Bear in Tuxedo), Waldemar Swierzy, c.1978 Right: Cyrk, (Jaguar and Parrot), Hubert Hilscher, c.1970s
Film posters, out of Hollywood, had typically depicted a scene or movie star, but in the hands of the edgy Polish artist, a new style of movie poster emerged.
Left: Wirujacy seks, (Dirty Dancing), Mieczyslaw Wasilewski, 1989 Right: Taksowkarz, (Taxi Driver), Andrzej Klimowski, 1978
Jazz, after a post-WWII ban, re-emerged as an accepted musical form by the end of the 1950s. Thereafter, a multitude of posters were created celebrating both individual musicians and jazz events.
Left: Jazz Jamboree '88 - 30th International Jazz Festival, Waldemar Swierzy, 1990 Center: Trumpeter with Tree-Hair, Rafal Olbinski, 1981 Right: Jazz Jamboree 1975, Jerzy Czerniawski, 1975
THEATER AND OPERA
Theater and Opera productions were an important arena for expression, especially during Soviet oppression in the 50s and 60s.
Left: Tosca, Jerzy Czerniawski, 1985 Center: Shakespeare (As You Like It), Franciszek Starowieyski , 1976/80 Right: Kraina sto piatej tajemnicy, (Land of One Hundred and Fifth Secret), Stasys Eidrigevicius, 1988
Many IVPDA member dealers have extensive collections of posters from the Polish School. The IVPDA website (www.IVPDA.com ) is a good way to peruse original Polish posters that are available for purchase.