1891 - 2008

Polish theatre poster

Theatre Institute in Warsaw

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The first Polish theatre posters

The history of the theatre poster in Poland begins almost at the same time as in Western Europe. In 1891, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, with his poster Moulin Rouge, opens his series of thirty-one posters presenting, among others, the nightlife of Parisian cabarets and Alphonse Mucha creates the posters for the famous French actress Sarah Bernhard, using the wide range of means characteristic for Art Nouveau.
In 1899 Stanisław Wyspiański creates both a poster and a typographic playbill for the Interior, a play by Maurice Maeterlinck, staged in the City Theatre in Cracow. Researchers have recognized this poster as the outstanding work, establishing the principles of the art of the modern poster. As Ewa Kruszewska wrote “this poster surprises with the accuracy of association between the graphic sign and the essence of the Maeterlinck’s play" (Ewa Kruszewska, a typescript without the title in the collection of the Poster Museum in Wilanów – the Department of the National Museum in Warsaw, page 22).

Eight years earlier the reconstruction of The Grand Theatre in Warsaw finally came to an end. For the time of reconstruction (1890 – 1891) the performances were moved to the Summer Theatre. Chaos caused by these circumstances affected the artistic level of performances; therefore the completion of reconstruction was impatiently awaited. The opening ceremony of the Theatre was scheduled for October 11th, 1891 and promoted with the lithographic printing designed by Ludwik Nawojewski (with the use of a photograph by Karoli and Pusch). And this particular design and print can be considered as one of the first Polish (and certainly Warsaw) posters relating to the events associated with the theatre.

The interwar period and the period just after the Second World War

During the interwar period, very few artists were interested in the art of theatre poster. It was the period of the great successes of propaganda posters and advertising posters that promote specific products. Posters were used to advertise films, tourism, “Polishness” or national ideas, but very rarely to advertise theatre performances. This area was still dominated by a playbill, as it provided more informational opportunities. However, it occurred that some stage designers (Karol Frycz, Andrzej Pronaszko) created posters for their performances. The artists specializing strictly in the poster art (Tadeusz Gronowski, Stefan Osiecki) also occasionally designed theatre posters.
After the war the theatres were nationalized, according to the spirit and the principles of the new system. The authorities were aware of the fact how important propaganda tool the theatre could be. Along with this knowledge increased the demand for the poster, which would be a more attractive form of advertisement than the playbill. Still the problem was a lack of specialists in this field. Therefore, the posters were often created by graphic designers specializing in advertising commercial products, for whom the theatre poster was not the main area of interest. Their projects were far from Wyspiański’s metaphor. They were correct, but unfortunately did not draw attention. One of the few exceptions is a typographic poster for “The Wedding” by Stanisław Wyspiański, designed by Henryk Tomaszewski.

The typographic poster designed by Henryk Tomaszewski for the performance with a stage design by Andrzej Pronaszko, emphasizing folk elements of the drama.

The book cover or the poster?

The Polish version of social realism

Perhaps – paradoxically – it was social realism - as the imposed tendency - that caused the impulse of rebellion that contributed to the revival of the art of the poster. In this particular area, the authorities did not interfere too much into the activities of the artists who, in the mid-fifties, began to implement in Poland the achievements of the Western avant-garde movement.
“The poster of the era of the totalitarian system in the Soviet version was in Poland less controlled by the censors than the other fields of art. The specific regulations and rules were not set up for this discipline, unlike in the case of other arts. In the infamous era of social realism no one interfered in the works of poster artists. In the fifties the poster was able to pass to the Poles the latest achievements and tendencies prevailing in the global art, unavailable to them in any other way. Through the posters designed by Polish avant-garde artists the experiences of Art informel, Tachisme, pop-art, op-art and minimal art etc. were transferred to Poland.” Ryszard Otręba My ABC… (Moje ABC), [in]; Krzysztof Dydo Polish theatre poster 1899-1999 ("Polski Plakat teatralny 1899-1999"), Cracow 2000.

The Post-Stalin Thaw and the beginnings of the “Polish School of Poster”

The second half of the 50s of the twentieth century is the beginning of the phenomenon commonly known as the "Polish school of poster". It is rather difficult to speak about a unified aesthetic trend or about a common denominator of all works. Paradoxically, what is common, it is the individualism of the authors, their liberty in the use of formal means and their intellectual overcoming the limitations of the system. This phenomenon is the most visible on the cultural posters – film and theatre posters. In the theatre it accompanies the Thaw, which allowed the staging of plays of national and foreign avant-garde authors in Polish theatres. In Poland emerges a group of young and very young authors with artistic education - Roman Cieślewicz (born in 1930), Leszek Hołdanowicz (born in1937), Jan Lenica (born in 1928), Jan Młodożeniec (born in1929), Rosław Szaybo (born in 1933), Franciszek Starowieyski (born in 1930), Waldemar Świerzy (born in1931) and Maciej Urbaniec (born in 1925). Their older colleagues are: Eryk Lipiński (born in1908), Józef Mroszczak (born in 1910), Daniel Mróz (born in 1917) and Henryk Tomaszewski (born in 1914). These are the people who, among others, will be setting up the trends of the “Polish school of poster” for the next thirty years.

The Golden Years
The second half of the 60s and the 70s is the best period for the Polish poster. The generation masters reaches a peak of their creative abilities while, at the same time, competing with the achievements of their pupils or successors, such as Jan Jaromir Aleksiun (born in 1940), Jerzy Czerniawski (born in 1947), Stasys Eidrigevičius (born in 1949), Jakub Erol (born in 1941), Mieczysław Górowski (born in 1941), Andrzej Klimowski (born in 1949), Lech Majewski (born in 1947), Marcin Mroszczak (born in 1950), Rafał Olbiński (born in 1945), Andrzej Pągowski (born in 1953), Wiesław Rosocha (born in 1946), Wiktor Sadowski (born in 1956), Jan Sawka (born in 1946), Eugeniusz Get Stankiewicz (born in 1942), Wiesław Wałkuski (born in 1956), Mieczysław Wasilewski (born in 1942) and Wojciech Wołyński (born in 1949). The “Polish school of poster” represents common characteristics only in the very basic assumptions – the use of metaphor, symbol and the introduction of the content with the use of a graphic sign. The main feature of the works is the recognisable and impossible to counterfeit characteristic mark that allows identifying the author at the first glance. At least in the case of the best artists. The variety of the means of expression – from a wide range of means of expression used in painting to the very moderate graphic means of expression. Always an excellent workshop, impeccable line, unerring brush stroke, perfectly composed lettering - often handwritten. Posters requiring interaction with the observer, his active approach while reading the message, following the trail of associations. Counting on the observer’s intelligence and remaining in his memory - ironing his soul like Tomaszewski irons Witkacy. And posters accompanying performances that become important in the social perception - formally innovatory, performances introducing to the Polish theatres the most modern Western literature and Polish literature previously forbidden and not staged so far (Gombrowicz, Witkacy) and touching the important issues, even of the political dimension.

The famous performance, directed by Maciej Prus, starring Elżbieta Kępińska, Marian Kociniak, Roman Wilhelmi was produced soon after the Polish 1970 protests – a wave of workers' riots against the socialist government, that took place mainly on the coast of Poland and was bloodily repressed by the police and the army - it was the voice on totalitarian regimes and restriction of civil liberties.

The visional theatre of Józef Szajna crossed the national borders. Szajna’s performances were presented east and west of Poland.

The performance, directed by Jerzy Grzegorzewski was an attempt to confront the prose of James Joyce; it inaugurated the experimental activity of “Atelier” - the "nocturnal" scene of the Stefan Jaracz Ateneum Theatre.

The Jan Kochanowski Theatre in Opole under the direction of Bogdan Cybulski (1979 - 1982) became one of the most active theatres - posters publishers in Poland.

The poster for the memorable performance, directed by Roman Polanski who also played the main character and with Tadeusz Łomnicki who played Salieri. Marvellous acting and the duel of the two masters of the scene, which everyone in Warsaw wanted to see.

The National Theatre

Due to the fact that the National Theatre was a public theatre, mainly subsidised by the government, the management was able to conduct a broad range of publishing activities, in terms of financing possibilities. It should be noted that fortunately these activities covered mostly the area of poster publishing. Under the direction of Kazimierz Dejmek and Adam Hanuszkiewicz among the permanent co-operators of the theatre were Roman Cieślewicz, Jan Lenica, Leszek Hołdanowicz, Maciej Urbaniec, Waldemar Świerzy and Jerzy Czerniawski. Memories of the theatrical events that took place here are accompanied with the recollections of the posters designed for these events, which equally firmly entrenched in the memory of the audience. It is also the case of “The Bedbug” by Vladimir Mayakovski, directed – yet unfinished – by Konrad Swinarski who died in the meantime in a plane crash. It instantly recalls the memory of red lips created by Jerzy Czerniawski, reluctantly associated with the hideous shape of the bedbug, due to the lowered corners of the mouth. It is the case of Hamlet, executed by the firing squad, on the poster designed by Marcin Mroszczak and Andrzej Krauze, which recalls the memory of the performance directed by Adam Hanuszkiewicz, with Daniel Olbrychski playing the main character. It is also the case of the poster designed in 1968 by Roman Cieślewicz for the „Forefather's Eve” directed by Kazimierz Dejmek, with the unforgettable role of Gustaw Holubek. And it is impossible to think otherwise about Phaedra, than as of a beautiful and tragic woman with burned eyes and mouth and with the serpent entwined around her neck - so intensely captivates the imagination this poster designed by Jan Lenica.

The first of the two versions of “Phaedra” designed by Jan Lenica. The discreet presence of the death.

The style of Młodożeniec was not yet recognizable.

The poster, designed by Waldemar Świerzy for the Old-Polish adaptation of the drama, directed by Kazimierz Dejmek, the director of the National Theatre. The performance was enthusiastically received both by the audience and by the critics.

The performance directed by Wanda Laskowska. It was the second staging of the debut drama by Różewicz, after its premiere, one year earlier, directed by Jerzy Jarocki in the Stary Theatre in Cracow.

The triumphal parade of Witkacy, through the various Polish theatres, began with the Thaw in 1956 and continued afterwards, despite the political changes in the country.

The last presentation of this performance, eventually banned because of the political reasons, gave an impulse to the so- called „March events” – a protest action of students and intellectuals in March 1968. In response the government reacted with the anti-Jewish campaign, which finally resulted with a mass emigration of Polish Jews. Kazimierz Dejmek, the director of the National Theatre was dismissed.

The performance was directed by Adam Hanuszkiewicz, the successor of Kazimierz Dejmek in the National Theatre. Daniel Olbrychski – a rising star of a new generation of actors, played the main character.

The poster is a graphic representation of a photograph of Balladyna (Bożena Dykiel) riding a motorcycle. The performance, directed by Adam Hanuszkiewicz, was one of the most famous performances in the history of the post-war Polish theatre.

The remarkable poster for the unfinished performance directed by Konrad Swinarski, one of the greatest and most original artists of the Polish theatre.

The second version of the poster – this time the death is symbolised by a viper. The good quality of the print (by Warszawska Drukarnia Akcydensowa that specialised in the large format printing) did not diminish the „luminosity” of the poster, presupposed by its author.

The Small Theatre, a branch of the National Theatre, established by Adam Hanuszkiewicz, was located in the basement of the cinema "Relax" - with entrance through the department store "Junior. This chamber scene, with the unusual arrangement of seats, hosted various important premieres, among others „The Unrecognized Drama” directed by Tadeusz Minc and „Antigone” by Sophocles directed by Adam Hanuszkiewicz, with the debut role of Anna Chodakowska.

The author of this poster had lived permanently abroad since 15 years. As many other immigrant artists he was still designing for the Polish theatres.

On this poster one can already recognise the characteristic style of Franciszek Starowieyski and his references to the Polish Sarmatism.

The poster designed by a young artist, joining the group of the best Polish poster designers, a student of Waldemar Świerzy.

The use of photography, characteristic for the artist – far more creative than is now in common - is visible on this poster.

The Dramatic Theatre of the City of Warsaw

The Warsaw Dramatic Theatre is – apart from the National Theatre - the only one that has been emphasized within a separate chapter. This honour is obviously justified by the quantity and artistic quality of published posters. The regular publishing activity in the area of poster publishing had been commenced by its artistic director (at the turn of the fifties and the sixties) Marian Meller and continued afterwards by his successors: Jan Świderski, Andrzej Szczepkowski, Jan Bratkowski, Gustaw Holoubek… The characteristic feature of this particular theatre were premieres of plays by Polish and foreign playwrights, among others Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Witold Gombrowicz, Sławomir Mrożek and Tadeusz Różewicz with the posters for these performances designed by Jan Młodożeniec, Henryk Tomaszewski or Franciszek Starowieyski. Many of these artists created their unique style during the cooperation with the Dramatic Theatre. Nowadays, the posters from that period still surprise us with their “atypicality”. Various other artists occasionally joined the group of the graphic designers permanently cooperating with the theatre, among others Eryk Lipiński, Daniel Mróz, Jerzy Srokowski, Waldemar Świerzy, Mieczysław Wasilewski…
A wise patron, which undoubtedly has been for years the Dramatic Theatre of the City of Warsaw, provides a sense of security and creates the conditions for freedom of creative explorations. And the effects are often very rewarding.

A spunky set of coloured stains, carefully composed lettering - the characteristic features of the projects of Młodożeniec are already visible on this poster.

Henryk Tomaszewski – a master of the metaphor and artistic abbreviation, who did not tend to avoid any irony, designed for the Dramatic Theatre a number of outstanding posters.

A motif of a bare skull is a reference to the Baroque – a favourite era of Byk (the Bull) Starowieyski.

The performance directed by Gustaw Holoubek, who also played the title character.

Starowieyski in a fairy tale style…

Starowieyski designed the posters to the multiple stagings of dramas by Tadeusz Różewicz, often the posters with erotic or even obscene elements.

In this performance the director, Jerzy Jarocki, ordered Zbigniew Zapasiewicz to walk on stage on all fours.

The famous performance, directed by Jerzy Jarocki, with Gustaw Holoubek as the Violinist.

Off (independent) theatre
The posters for the cult performances of the Theatre of the Eighth Day – "Sale for Everyone" (1977), "Oh, Haven't We Lived in Dignity" (1979) and "More Than One Life" (1981) were designed by Wojciech Wołyński, a graduate of the State Higher School of Fine Arts in Poznan. Wołyński, connected with a dissident movement in Poznan, an activist of “Solidarity” in the Greater Poland region, was interned for 10 months during the martial law in Poland. His works are easy to remember because of his original manner of drawing and specific deformation. At the very beginning of the 80s he still cooperated with both professional and independent (also called “student” at that time) theatres, but eventually he emigrated to the West in 1983 where he became very successful, like many other Polish graphic artists. Wołyński is a professor at the Faculty of Illustration of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, mostly known in the world as the illustrator of books by Stanisław Barańczak. In Poland he unfortunately remains forgotten, despite several attempts to recall his works to public awareness. Another artist who emigrated from Poland and became very successful and recognized in the West and the Far East (Japan) was Jan Sawka (1946 – 2012; since 1997 in New York) who cooperated in Poland with the STU Theatre. His manner of illustration perfectly reflected the powerful and enormous stagings of the STU Theatre performances  – "Exodus", "Patients" or "The Crazy Locomotive" – presented in the huge halls or sometimes in the open air. Among those, who in the 70s and 80s cooperated on a permanent basis with the independent theatre, which played the important social, cultural and political role in the environments of the young intelligentsia, were also Jerzy Czerniawski and Eugeniusz Get-Stankiewicz; every now and then also Andrzej Krauze, Robert Knuth and Jerzy Krechowicz. 

Both Jerzy Afanasjew (writer and director) and Jerzy Krechowicz (painter and graphic artist) were connected with the environment of the Gdansk club "Żak", which in the second half of the 50s has become a mainstay of the student theatre and cabaret groups, and the centre of a student cultural life.

The poster for the mystery play of the STU Theatre – Exodus, with the „libretto” by Leszek A. Moczulski and music by Krzysztof Szwajgier, directed by Krzysztof Jasiński, was often presented in the open air. It referred to the elements of fire and water and it had a great influenced on emotions of the audience. The scene when a naked girl and a naked boy, separated by a paper wall that sets on fire, approach each other was never-to-be-forgotten and emotionally received by the audience. The burnt out match on the poster designed by Jan Sawka refers among others to this scene.

The International Student Festival of the Open Theatre (earlier The Festival of Festivals) was a real “window on the world” for the alternative theatre environment in Poland. It hosted the theatre groups that were awarded at the similar festivals all over the world. The originator and spiritus movens of this festival was Bogusław Litwiniec, called padre (the father) of the alternative theatre.

"The Patients", a buffo (comic) performance, based on the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, is another cult performance of the STU Theatre, directed by Krzysztof Jasiński, a founder (in 1966) and a long-time director of the theatre where worked various important theatre artists, visual artists, musicians and poets.

In 1975 the STU Theatre became a professional theatre. In 1977 "The Crazy Locomotive", the musical by Marek Grechuta and Krzysztof Jasiński, based on the works of Witkacy was staged in the STU Theatre. The ambitious show was presented in a huge tent. The speeding white locomotive with wings was running into the centre of the stage, the bicycles and the handcars were also used during the show. Marek Grechuta and Maryla Rodowicz acted in this performance.

„Kalambur” in Wroclaw, the STU Theatre in w Krakow, The Theatre of the Eighth Day in Poznan, the 77 Theatre in Lodz and the Academy of Movement in Warsaw were not only theatres, but also the centres of the cultural life of the young intelligentsia during the times of the Polish People’s Republic. The author of the corporate poster of the Open Theatre Centre “Kalambur” is an active artist, initiator and author of many projects, exhibitions, actions - sometimes causing discussion or controversy.

The Theatre of the Eighth Day is one of the most important alternative theatres in Poland originating from the student countercultural movement of the 60s. Performances presented in the 70s and the 80s were important, courageous and often ironic comments on the reality of the Polish People’s Republic. The poster with the image of Stalin was published in the period of the "First Solidarity" - the period of temporary easing of political restrictions.

The provocative and the rebellious poster
The poster, which is not humble, not only in the sense of the ad hoc political allusion. It is provocative and rebellious against the poverty and dullness of the martial law period. It protests against the scarcity of the everyday life. It is full of imagination and bright in colours (including red colour which is censored), it plays with various associations. It’s intelligent, mischievous and independent. As it always used to be.

The first poster designed by Wołyński for the Theatre of the Eighth Day, for the performance based on the texts by Stanisław Barańczak. The first version of this poster was banned by the censors. And no wonder - Wołyński designed a playing card with a double-figure of a worker holding the rudder, referring to the famous poster of Włodzimierz Zakrzewski from the 50s (the “helmsman” of the nation was the communist PARTY). The second version of the poster – with the head full of crumpled newspapers – was received by the censors with a relief…
The creative cooperation of Wołyński and Barańczak, strengthened in the exile, in the United States, lasted until the death of Barańczak in 2015.

Jerzy Janiszewski was the author of the sign (lettering) of the „Solidarity” – the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union, which in 1980 led to the agreement between the socialist government and the workers. The typeface designed by Janiszewski was called “solidaryca”. Krystyna Janiszewska designed in 1980 the sign for the Polish 1970 protest – a bloodily repressed wave of workers' riots on the coast of Poland.
„Polish Bethlehem” is the only theatre poster designed together by Krystyna and Jan. They both emigrated from Poland in the 80s.

This poster caused a sensation when it was affixed on the streets of Warsaw. Usually vigilant censors this time did not associate the arrangement of the toes on the poster with the letter “V” – the symbol of freedom and victory over the authorities that imposed the martial law in Poland.

The poster designed by talented, prematurely dead artist, connected with Gorzów Wielkopolski. Apart from designing posters he dealt with photography, he also directed in the theatre and he was a stage designer (together with his wife Ewa).

The Theatre of One Sign is a series of posters designed and published by Marian Nowiński since 1984 for a non-existent in reality theatre.

A self-portrait of the artist, wearing a suit and a red shirt, of which the lower hem sticks out from the unzipped fly, was initially the basis for a poster for the New Theatre in Warsaw - probably for the "History" by Gombrowicz. The censors were vigilant and banned the poster. The representative of the Main Office for the Control of the Press, Publications and Performances came to the theatre during the rehearsals to see whether the performance may be presented to the audience (or else what must be changed before the public presentations) and spoke with Get-Stankiewicz about the poster. She was mostly interested in the shirt – she was trying to understand why it was red. Get-Stankiewicz was happy to provide the answer. He told her he liked this colour. And in particular this specific red colour from the primary colour triad, what was maybe not a very sophisticated penchant. The censor kept on putting a pressure on him, seeking for some other reasons for which he used this colour. Yet he did not let her fox him. He said he just liked it. Well, what could she say then? She obviously could not say she did not like this red colour. Get was undoubtedly an advocate of normality in the times when we all became slightly paranoid… Eventually the censors did not permit to publish this poster. The STU Theatre later on used the rejected project on the poster for Barefoot. And in Krakow, surprisingly, the project was not banned. (Excerpt from the memories of Anna Mieczyńska, "The Provocateur", from the catalogue "Hommage à Get" published on the occasion of the posthumous exhibition of Eugeniusz Get-Stankiewicz in the House of Culture Śródmieście, Warsaw 2011.)

The frivolous poster
In 1981, in the Jan Kochanowski Theatre in Opole, Janusz Nyczak directed "Ladies and Hussars" by Aleksander Fredro. While the actors were rehearsing a play, Andrzej Pągowski was designing the project of a poster ordered by the theatre. The theatre, under the direction of Bogdan Cybulski, continued its poster publishing activities initiated by the predecessor of Cybulski, Bogdan Hussakowski and cooperated with the best possible graphic designers. The design delivered by Pągowski met all expectations. The naked female torso was tied in the intimate zone with a hussar’s braid. The significance of the comedy by Fredro was courageously translated into the language of art. The poster affixed on the hoardings in Opole caused a sensation among passers-by. The posters that were breaking various taboos, mostly the moral ones, were often designed by the best graphic designers. They gave the opportunity to joke, to repose and to wink at the spectator. Even though sometimes they caused turmoil, like the unforgettable stinkhorn designed by Starowieyski for "The White Wedding", comparing to which his dog with four paws-penises was just an innocent trifle. Yet everything was designed in good style, frivolously and without any vulgarity.

There is a funny story associated with this poster. In the times of Polish People’s Republic there was a strict price list for the remunerations, which artists were allowed to charge for their works. However, the acceptable rates were not satisfactory for the best artists. Yet it was difficult to find a solution to get past the stringent rules. In this particular case Henryk Tomaszewski charged the additional price for… colour separation.

The „musical” poster
This poster is called musical for a simple reason – it is designed for opera, operetta or ballet performances, in short words for musical performances. It is emphasized not only because of the huge number of works that fall into this category, but also because of the specific difficulty, which the author of the artwork meets when he makes a reference to a musical work that he comments on. Is it possible to transfer the sounds, music or at least its character with the use of artistic means? The posters for "Wozzeck" designed by Jan Lenica or the poster for Tadeusz Baird’s "Symphony No 3" designed by Jan Młodożeniec prove that this is possible. The premiere of the Polish adaptation of the Alban Berg’s opera in the Grand Theatre in 1964 eventually did not take place but the poster remained. It was expressive, meaningful, composed of the artistic means of expression characteristic for Lenica – the line limiting the colour field, reminiscent of stained glass. Recognized and frequently cited as an example of the best achievements of the Polish poster school. The image carrying a magical representation of a scream, pain and disagreement. And the poor head from which the scream comes out. The image of dramatic music, which must represent these states. All this is present on this poster – as ear-splitting as "The Scream" by Edvard Munch.

Józef Mroszczak – the co-creator of the Polish poster school, originator of the founding of the world’s first Poster Museum in Wilanów.

Tadeusz Gronowski, considered the founder of the modern Polish poster, was the author of hundreds of works, mostly advertisements (for example of a famous slogan “Radion sam pierze” – “Radion – self laundering”). During the interwar period he worked as a stage designer for several theatres in Warsaw, but he designed very few theatre posters.

Stanislaw Zamecznik - graphic designer, stage designer, architect. His brother Wojciech was a more prolific author of the posters.

Zbigniew Kaja – the co-creator of the Polish poster school, the author of hundreds of posters, mostly on cultural and political issues, connected with the city of Poznan. His son Ryszard is a stage designer and a painter, he also designs posters.

Wiktor Górka, the co-creator of the Polish poster school, mostly renowned as the author of the film posters (including the Polish version of the poster for the famous film „Cabaret”).

In the 70s Bronisław Zelek was the assistant to Henryk Tomaszewski at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He immigrated to Austria. He is most renowned as the designer of posters for the horror films, on which he integrally treated the letter as an element of a poster. Designer of a few typefaces.

Otto Axer – painter, stage designer, he co-operated for several years with the Contemporary Theatre in Warsaw, under the direction of Erwin Axer, his nephew.

Hubert Hilscher – one of the co-creators of the Polish poster school. His main area of interest in this field was a circus poster, a musical poster and a typographic poster.

Cyprian Kościelniak, professionally connected with the Gdansk environment, since 1968 he’s been living in Amsterdam.

Stasys Eidrigevičius – the artist of the Lithuanian origin, since 1976 he’s been permanently living and working in Poland.

The pictorial poster
When one looks at Polish the posters, one might say, paraphrasing Stachura: everything is painting. Well, almost everything. This painterliness, which the critics so often refer to, is the leitmotif, continuously accompanying the Polish poster from its very beginning – the theatre poster is not an exception. Many authors created and still create easel paintings - Starowieyski, Czerniawski, Sadowski, Górowski, Świerzy, Wałkuski…, even the „orthodox” poster artists – it’s enough to look at "Kordian" designed by Henryk Tomaszewski or "33 Swoons" designed by Jan Młodożeniec. Roman Kalarus, even though he uses mainly the technique of serigraphy, and yet he paints. Not to mention Olbiński, Pągowski, Stasys… In the mid-80s Waldemar Świerzy was contracted by the New Theatre in Warsaw to make a series of portraits of actors acting in this theatre. This series created a gallery of pictorial portraits, each of which could be a wonderful poster. The “painterliness” of a Polish poster – is a beautifully distinguishing feature. 

Franciszek Starowieyski von Byk (the bull) – this name was adopted by one of the great artists of the Polish poster school. Originator of the theatre of drawing, an expert on human anatomy, in particular on female bodies. In his works he ostentatiously referred to the works of the seventeenth-century masters.

Jan Jaromir Aleksiun – born in New Wilejka near Vilnius, graduated from the State Higher School of Fine Arts in Wroclaw, he received the diploma in graphic design from professor Stanisław Dawski. Lecturer, professor, in 1981-1982 the rector of his alma mater.

Henryk Tomaszewski – one of the most eminent representatives of the Polish school of poster. His works are characterized by the artistic abbreviation, metaphor, and graphic transfer of a message, but also by playfulness or irony. This distinguished artist probably anticipated the state of martial law in Poland and the Military Council of National Salvation (the Polish abbreviation “WRON” – is similar to the Polish word “crow and there is a slogan “the crow will not beat the eagle” that refers to the White Eagle – the Polish national emblem) and the public sentiments that were to come a year later.

Franciszek Maśluszczak is primarily a painter. And it is quite obviously noticeable – also on a few posters of his authorship.

Tomasz Bogusławski, professionally connected with the State Higher School of Fine Arts in Gdansk, the rector of the academy in 2002-2008.

Jerzy Grzegorzewski – the visionary director, graduate of the State Higher School of Fine Arts in Lodz and the State Higher Theatre School in Warsaw. In 1982-1997 the artistic director (since 1990 also the general director) of the Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz Studio Arts Centre. In 1997-2003 the artistic director of the National Theatre in Warsaw. Marek Walczewski, portrayed on the poster, was one of his favourite actors.

Wiktor Sadowski, a graduate of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, he studied in the atelier of Henryk Tomaszewski. He won a gold medal at the International Poster Biennale in Warsaw in 1984.

Wiesław Wałkuski, a graduate of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, he studied in the ateliers of Teresa Pągowska and Maciej Urbaniec. Poster designer and painter. Winner of numerous awards.

Roman Kalarus – a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice. He runs the Poster Atelier. His main fields of work are poster, graphic design and painting. Winner of numerous awards.

Michał Kliś, a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, in 2001-2005 rector of the Academy. Graphic designer, poster designer, winner of numerous awards.

Mieczysław Górowski – a graduate and later on a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow. Winner of numerous awards at the international poster exhibitions. Painter.

Rafał Olbiński– a graduate of the Faculty of Architecture at the Warsaw University of Technology. Since 1981 in exile, since 1985 a lecturer at the New York School of Visual Arts. Winner of numerous international awards.

Playing with a letter
The poster, of course, cannot exist without a letter (even though there are some exceptions), yet a letter is treated as an “additional” element of the artwork – many posters would not be any less worth as a work of art if the letterings were removed. However, among the designers of the Polish poster were, or are, a few artists that consider a letter to be the equal element of the whole composition, for example Henryk Tomaszewski or Jan Młodożeniec. Franciszek Starowieyski treated a letter in a completely different way, but with equal respect. There are also posters, on which a letter is the main and the basic element of the composition; it forms the content of the poster. Such a classic, quite a "model" example of the use of the letters are two very famous posters designed by Maciej Urbaniec – for "The Wedding" in the National Theatre and for "The Card Index" in the Small Theatre. Conciseness and accuracy of the message are conspicuous - and yet these are only letters. Likewise the poster for "The Germans" designed by Młodożeniec for The Stefan Jaracz Ateneum Theatre - simple yet meaningful and menacing. A magnificent example of a typographic “trick” is the poster for "The Death of the Lieutenant" by Stanisław Mrożek, designed for the Dramatic Theatre in Warsaw, in 1963. Starowieyski created with mastery, or even with bravado, using a quill, the image of the lieutenant. He consciously referred to the nineteenth-century classical manuals of calligraphy. On the other hand, Marian Oslislo - for his poster for the New Theatre in Zabrze ("Jacques the Fatalist and His Master" by Denis Diderot) designed a kind of his own impish alphabet; Cieślewicz designed the Egyptian pyramids for the poster for "Aida". And yet the works, using the letters in a similar way, are also presented in the other sections – because what in fact is, if not a spectacular playing with a letter, the poster for "The History" by Gombrowicz designed by Henryk Tomaszewski? However, such posters in which the letters themselves create the image do not occur too often. Therefore, it is worth to “enucleate” some of them and to present them separately…

What a wonderful use of the initials of Stanisław Wyspiański!

The posters (playbill-posters?) designed by Pluta for the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Cracow refer to functional typography. Using print typography (nowadays of course in a computer technique), he creates, in spite of the simplicity of means, artworks not devoid of humorous aspect, such as for example "Twelfth Night".

After the transformation
The political transformation in 1989 was not directly, nor immediately reflected in the performances staged by the Polish theatres, neither in posters designed for these performances. Of course the censorship was discontinued and the freedom of speech was restored. But the restrictions that are imposed on the artist designing a poster, the requirements of this genre - of course have remained unchanged. Translating the content or the idea of a performance on to the graphic sign or on to a plot of a picture, evoking the associations assumed by the author, striving for conciseness and readability - constrained by a short time of exposition and by potential distance of the spectator, cause the fact that in the area of poster designing there are not so many significant names. Paradoxically, the new tool, which undoubtedly was a computer, which - in a matter of fact, caused in the field of poster design a bigger revolution than the political circumstances - required familiarization and mastering of the user abilities. Every now and then it was bringing more harm than benefit, creating seemingly unlimited opportunities, but also leading to an unwarranted abuse of a form of or to elimination of the principles of aesthetics in the name of the use of a new technical mean. State patronage is not as stable as it used to be, the theatres do not always possess funds – and desire – to finance such a luxurious promotion tool, which is the artistic poster… In various theatre institutions the poster was evolving in the direction of the playbill-poster, to the obvious detriment of the latter.

Enthusiasts and „pollectors” (poster collectors)

It is also worth mentioning here, besides the two previously emphasized Warsaw theatres – the National Theatre and the Dramatic Theatre, which for many years pursued (or still pursue) wise policies in the field of poster publishing, some other theatres, e.g. the Zygmunt Hübner Powszechny Theatre, the New Theatre and the Lalka Theatre in Warsaw, the Coastal Theatre in Gdansk, the Jan Kochanowski Theatre in Opole or the Wanda Siemaszkowa Theatre, Rzeszow that for years has been organizing the Biennial of the Poster. This phenomenon is often connected with the director of the theatre and sometimes with a specific person whose passion becomes poster publishing. I would like to mention here two important persons. The first one is Władysław Serwatowski, the organizer of many exhibitions, the jury member in various poster competitions, the collaborator of several theatres, the initiator of the language competition during which the word "pollector" was created - meaning someone who collects the posters. The other important person is Cezary Niedziółka who cooperated with the Zygmunt Hübner Powszechny Theatre and then with the Coastal Theatre in Gdansk. The retrospective exhibition of the theatre posters published thanks to his initiative (a few dozen out of about 150), held in the Warsaw cafe Relax, organized by Piotr Dąbrowski in June 2015, proved that the Polish theatre poster did not perish and that the young artists also begin to take an interest in the theatre poster.
Fortunately, there are “pollectors” - documentarians - publishers, both private and public institutions, various enthusiasts organizing numerous retrospectives and exhibitions, who sponsor publications documenting the art of poster - including the theatre poster. The most famed and important activists in this field are Krzysztof Dydo in Cracow, Piotr Dąbrowski, Nina Rozwadowska and Andrzej Stroka, Bożena and Piotr Rajchel, Włodek Orzeł in Warsaw and Florian Zieliński in Poznan. As well as the Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute and the Poster Museum in Wilanów, a branch of the National Museum in Warsaw, with its collection consisting already of over a dozen thousands Polish theatre posters.

Theatre Institute in Warsaw
Credits: Story

Concept of the exhibition - Anna Mieczyńska-Jerominek

Translation - Agnieszka Mrowińska

Coordination and cooperation - Klaudyna Desperat, The Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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