Chapter 37 - the Polish School and the Polish Art of Opera, Film and Circus Posters

Leszek Zebrowski, Carmen - Bizet, 2009

The Polish opera, film, and circus posters occupy a prominent place in the history of graphic design. Firmly grounded in  the vast, rich and sophisticated heritage of Poland's visual communications since the early 20th century, they are informed by the tragic history of the  Polish life under long centuries of captivity. The Polish heritage have inspired the creation of a symbolic language for transmission of various layers of  socio-cultural meanings which are at the core of its culture and forms the Polish School of Opera, Film, and Circus  Posters. A school that is distinguished by its thought provoking and bold compositions, masterful craftsmanship, and a unique aesthetic design that amalgamates some of the Polish cultural identity in the framework of various styles such as Jugendstil, Secessionism, Japanism, Surrealism, Cubism and other modernist  elements of Pop art and Street Art. Above all, the Polish visual communication posters are characterized  by their artistic  integration of image and text that set them  apart  from the usual western design of  advertising. To comprehend the intricacies of the artistic vision of the Polish School  one has to approach it from a historical perspective.

The Emergence Polish Graphic Design -  Late 19th Century until the WWI

The Polish history starts at the 11th century, when various principalities became united for the first time under a Polish banner.  But the first reunification was short-lived. Nevertheless,  two centuries after its second reunification, in the 14th century,  Poland reached the zenith of its power, when its territories stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Yet, it suffered in the tumultuous years of the 17th century with the invasion of the Swedes, breaking up of hostilities with the Turks, and a Cossack rebellion in its  southeastern territories. An  exhausted Poland  was divided up by the three autocratic  monarchies of Russia, Austria and Prussia at the end of the 18th century. During more than a century of occupation  successive generations of Poles  struggled for  their  independence. The motto of "For your freedom and ours" -- Za naszą i waszą wolność, was the battle cry of the exiled Polish soldiers from their occupied country, fighting in various struggles all over Europe against tyrants, which became the symbol of Polish struggle for a democratized  Europe.

Poland gained back her freedom at the turn of the 19th century, when  France under Napoleon became  her ally and defeated the three occupying powers. Under the Treaty of Tilsit the Duchy of Warsaw was established on the Prussian occupied  Poland. A Polish government was formed, the Napoleonic Code was introduced and peasants were given personal freedoms. However, with the defeat of Napoleon at Leipzig in 1813, after his disastrous expedition to Russia, the Congress of Vienna returned part of the Duchy, together with Poznan, to Prussia. The remaining lands were turned into the Kingdom of Poland, but it became a protectorate of Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Many Poles joined underground movements and planed for an uprising.  The first uprising broke out in Warsaw on November 29, 1830. An independent government was established , with the Sejm dethroning the Tsar.  But, the Poles were defeated  in the  Polish-Russian war that followed, and Russia regained its control.

The post-uprising period saw an intensification of Russification pressures in the Russian occupied Poland, and Germanization in the Prussian part.  Those pressures resulted in a growth of national awareness. The Polish culture responded in the context of its 19th century Romanticism and Positivism. Jan Matejko (1838-1893), the most popular creator of romantic visions of Polish history, declared, "Art is a weapon of sorts; one ought not to separate art from the love of one's homeland." Romantic literature promoted the image of a heroic freedom fighter, who by sheer strength of his spirit engages in a lonely battle the evil forces of violence : "Reach where your vision does not reach, break up what mind cannot break," was the call of romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz. The other literary giant of the time, Juliusz Slowacki, described heroes as "like stones thrown by God on a rampart." In music Frederic Chopin used Polish folk and national motifs. This romantic image of Poles as a chosen people with a messianic mission was challenged by Positivist of Cracow who were loyal to the Austrian Empire, and were reacting to the disastrous aftermath  of the January Uprising of 1863 against Russia.

Polonia by Stanislaw Wyspianski, 1893-94, Pastel,  National Museum, Cracow

The Polish Hamlet by Jacek Malczewski, oil on canvas, 1903. Flanked by two images of Poland, one old and bound, the other free, radical and revolutionary, which  symbolize the Polish dilemma during her partition; whether to stay with the status quo or to seek freedom by staging one more uprising.

After decades of forcible Germanization,  Vienna offered some  limited measure of political, cultural and economic autonomy to  Galicia, the Polish area under the Austrian occupation. In 1869 Cracow gained some limited degrees of self rule and, the right to use the Polish language in schools and in the courts. Four years later with the  establishment of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, the city turned into a Polish center for academic research, particularly  in the humanities. In 1898, Jan Wdowiszewski,  organized the first International Exposition of the Poster in  Krakow. Wdowiszewski who for thirteen years, from 1891, was the managing director of the Technical Industrial Museum of  Krakow, in his introduction to the exhibition argued that the power of posters stems from the fact that, like a mirror, they reflect both the physical image as well as the ideological thinking of a society. Two years later the  Polish Science and Literature Association -- Związku Naukowo-Literackiego in Łódź published William Morris's Art and the Beauty of the Earth, in which Morris  argued that if one desires to live with  art then
it must be part of your daily lives, and the daily life of every man. It will be with us wherever we go, in the ancient city full of traditions of past time, in the newly-cleared farm in America or the colonies, where no man has dwelt for traditions to gather round him; in the quiet countryside as in the busy town, no place shall be without it. You will have it with you in your sorrow as in your joy, in your work-a-day hours as in your leisure. It shall be no respecter of persons, but be shared by gentle and simple, learned and unlearned, and be as a language that all can understand. It will not hinder any work that is necessary to the life of man at the best, but it will destroy all degrading toil, all enervating luxury, all foppish frivolity. It will be the deadly foe of ignorance, dishonesty, and tyranny, and will foster good-will, fair dealing, and confidence between man and man. It will teach you to respect the highest intellect with a manly reverence, but not to despise any man who does not pretend to be what he is not; and that which will be the instrument that it shall work with and the food that shall nourish it shall be man's pleasure in his daily labour, the kindest and best gift that the world has ever had.  

And, these words appear to have resonated with the polish soul.

Stanislaw Wyspianski (1869 - 1907), Caritas (Love), 1904

Jozef Mehoffer – 1923

Karol Frycz, "Helena Sulima as Rachel in Stanislaw Wyspianski's Drama Wesele (the Wedding), from the Melpomene's Portfolio" , colour lithograph, 1904, National Museum, Cracow

Kazimierz Sichulski – Contemporary Polish Exhibition of Architecture, Sculpture and Painting , 1910

Henryk Kunzek – Forward , 1910

Jan Rembowski, First Spring Salon,1914

 In 1901 a number of Polish young artists, including  Karol Tichy , Wlodzimir Tatmajer , Stanislaw Golinski established  the Polish Applied Arty Society,  Towarzystwo Polska Sztuka Stosowana --TPS, in Kraków which through its annual exhibitions  and publications played a very important role in bringing together Meloda Polska (young Poland) designers  practicing in contemporary modernist art of the era. The term  Meloda Polska was coined after a manifesto by Artur Górski, published in 1898 in the Kraków newspaper Życie (Life). The Society opposed foreign influences and composed posters with traditional historic forms. Their posters used images of Polish folk art, and were characterized by decorative color patterns and a rhythmic flow of line. From the outset critics in Paris , Vienna , and Munich recognized their distinctiveness. Their approach to design – lightness in conveying the subject, the free manner of associating theme and image – is shared by their successors a half-century later.  Many of the Poland's visual artists, including those that were associated  with  the Academy of Fine Arts or the Society of Polish Artists “Sztuka” such as, Stanislaw Wyspianski, Karol Frycz, and Wojciech Weiss  began to express their artistic visions, and to  promote the European trends of decadence, neo-romanticism, symbolism, impressionism and art nouveau.

Polish posters between the two wars,
After the onset of the WWI,  Germany and the dual empire of Austria-Hungary occupied the entire Polish territory, in 1915. The victors permitted the organization of local self-governments and city councils, as well as the Polonization of education and the setting up of a university and a polytechnic. However, the Polish economy was in ruin, and what remained of industry and farming was ruthlessly plundered by the occupiers.  Nevertheless, Poland was lucky that by  the  end of  the WWI, all of its three occupiers were weakened drastically.   Austria-Hungary, and Germany were defeated, and the Bolshevik Russia was being isolated and was not a member of the victorious side. As a result, a free  Polish Republic was established by France, Britain and the US in the congress of Versailles.

The twenty years of independence, until the onset of WWII, was a period of Polish growth and prosperity. The Polish Airlines, LOT, was established on January 1st, 1929. Advertising posters were used as an effective tool, to shape the company's  image at home and abroad. LOT worked with leading Polish graphic artists to build confidence in its flight and to reduce any flight anxiety. In 1924, Józef Mehoffer, one of the most renowned representatives of Art Nouveau school, created a poster advertising Polish Airline Aero Lloyd that flew from Gdańsk, Lvov and Warsaw. Five years later, a poster by Tadeusz Gronowski (1894-1990) encouraged the public to “carry passengers, mail and cargo” by LOT Airlines. An elegant silhouette of Fokker is accompanied by three storks, as a symbol of safe flight under the blue skies.

Tadeusz Gronowski (1894-1990) became the first Polish artist dedicated solely to posters. Gronowski maintained that a graphic designer must not impose his taste on the viewer since the poster is a "communication between seller and public". His 1926 poster for Radion soap exemplifies this attitude. The simple geometric image of a black cat going into the wash basin and coming out white personified "Radion does the cleaning for you!" .

Tadeusz Gronowski, Tier, 1923

Tadeusz Gronowski ,7th International Eastern Fair, Warsaw 1927

Tadeusz Gronowski, Advertisement Radion soap, 1927

 Tadeusz Gronowski,  LOT the Polish Airlines, 1939

Another artist Stefan Norblin  (1892, -1952), known primarily for his modernist and Art Nouveau style was commissioned for a series of tourism promotional posters.  Born in Warsaw into a family of artists. Stefan Norblin's great-grandfather was known painter Peter Norblin. Stefan studied painting in Antwerp and Dresden. In 1920 he took part in the Polish-Soviet war. After the war he returned to Warsaw, where he married Lena Żelichowska, then well-known actress and dancer. He left Poland in 1939.  During the Second World War he was in India, where he created   a series of paintings for the Maharajah of Jodhpur while decorating the interior of the Umaid Bhawan Palace, the largest private residence in the country.  After the war he settled in the United States, where he earned his living as a portraitist. He died in San Francisco in 1952. 

Stefana Norblina,  Polska Zakopane, 1925

Stefana Norblina,  Gdynia, 1925

Stefana Norblina, Polska, 1925

Stefana Norblina, Warszawa, 1928

Stefana Norblina, Wilno, 1928

Stefana Norblina, Lwow, 1928

Tadeusz Trepkowski a renowned graphic designer pushed the  minimalism approach  to a new horizon and  created some of the most effective  visual communication posters, such as his 1937 Reka skaleczona nie moza pracowac -- The hand crippled, Meuse not work, in which the three rhythmic hammer holding hands  with a fourth of injured one convey the message of the importance of safety.  Except for a few month study at the Municipal School of Decorative Arts, he was basically a self-taught artist. When he was a teenager of just sixteen years old he undertook his first project. He won a number of prizes for his posters in various competitions including for PKO in1933 , and  for the Tychy brewery in 1935 and the Grand Prix at the International Exhibition in Paris for his  poster, Cautionin 1937. His posters were of political, social, health and safety nature.   He also created some film posters. 
In the final years of his life he was criticized for its departure from the rules of socialist realism. He died suddenly of a heart attack , when he was just forty years old .

Tadeusz Trepkowski, The hand crippled, Meuse not work, 1937

 Maciej Nowicki &Stanislawa Sandecka,  Everyone Fight Against Tuberculosis, 1934

Maciej Nowicki & Stanislawa Sandecka, 2nd Meeting of Polish Youth from Abroad, 1935

 Jerzy Hryniewiecki & Andrzej Stypinski, Eastern Trade Fair, 1930
European Rowing Championship, 1929

Ball of Young Architecture

10 Years of PZP, 1934

The Emergence of the Polish Opera, Film, and Circus Posters after WWII

Russia and Germany  could not  accept the outcome of Versailles treaty with respect to Poland, but to buy time they both  concluded  non-aggression pacts with Poland -- Russia in 1932 and Germany in 1934. At the beginning of 1939, the Nazi Germany were ready to attack Poland, and in  response Britain guaranteed the  independence of Poland, which was later affirmed by France. The German onslaught on Poland on September 1, 1939, started the WWII. On September 3, Britain and France declared war on Germany, and on September 17, the Soviet Russia invaded Poland. Confronted with the enormous military might of the enemies and receiving no assistance from France and Britain,  Poland was forced to submit.

Jan Lenica,Faust of Charles Gounod,1964

Hubert Hilscher, Francesca da Rimini, Opera of Peter Tchaikovsky, 1968

Henryk Tomaszewsk, Zemsta nietoperza - Johann Strauss, 1970
Maciej Urbaniec, Boris Godunov, opera of Modest Musorgsky, 1972 
 S. Bakowski, La Gioconda of Amilcare Ponchielli, 1973

Stasys Eidrigevicius, Neocantes - capilla barroca, 1989
Jan Lenica, Norma  of Vincenzo Bellini, 1992

Rafal Olbinski, La Traviata - Giuseppe Verdi, 1992

Ryszard Kaja, Orfeusz w piekle / Orpheus in the Underworld Operetta of Jacques Offenbach, 1995

Andrzej Pagowski, Joseph Haydn - Lo Speciale / Aptekarz, 1993

Leszek Zebrowski, Student zebrak Poster for the opera of Karl Millocker, 1999 

Rafal Olbinski, Tosca, Puccini, 2004

Ryszard Kaja, Hagith - Karol Szymanowski, 2005

Ryszard Kaja, Tosca - Giacomo Puccini, 2005
Adam Pekalski, Chorus Festival, 2005

Mieczyslaw Gorowski, Charles Gounod - Faust, 2006
Andrzej Pagowski,  Boris Godunov, opera of Modest Musorgsky, 2007

The Soviet Russia  snatched one half  of Poland's territory. During eighteen months of occupation, thousands of civilians were murdered. Hundreds of thousands of people were arrested and sent to Soviet concentration camps. The fate of Polish citizens under the German occupation was no less horrible. In accordance with Hitler's ideology Germans racial supremacy, the aim was to turn Poles into unskilled laborers. High schools and universities were closed. The treasures of Polish culture were plundered. Mass arrests and executions went on unabated throughout the occupation period.  A network of concentration camps in which slave labor force was inhumanely exploited was established. Hundreds of thousands of people were murdered there or died of hunger, disease or exhaustion. Some three million Polish Jews perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Majdanek and Treblinka death camps.

After the German defeat at the end of WWII the advancing Soviet troops occupied  the rest of the Poland territory. Military cooperation with local Home Army units lasted until the Germans were defeated. Upon victory, Polish units were taken prisoners, and transported to the Gulag camps and Siberia. Poland's destiny was sealed at the Yalta Conference, in 1945, when its was relegated to the Soviet Russia's sphere of influence. By 1948  communists destroyed the private sector, and  the market disciplines, and introduced a centrally controlled plan economy. The inevitability of change in the nature of Polish culture was evident. Heated arguments among the artists that longed for the twenty years of freedom during the inter-war period  gradually silenced over the  1946- 48, and the  communists exerted full control over all spheres of culture and social activities.  In fact, the artists in Soviet Russia, since 1934, were instructed that their work should  reflect the principle of Socialist Realism. "truthful and historically correct portrayal of reality in its revolutionary development".  As far as 1973, Butkovich  urged artists  in an article in the Soviet Culture that they should "express the principal ideas of the time ,,, that is to follow the way of Soviet realists".

 Tadeusz Trepkowski, Grunwald 1410 – Berlin 1945, 1945

ppreciated by the authorities, the poster was regarded as a privileged kind of art, due to its usefulness for propaganda. The new realities had to be simple, literal, and obvious. Allusiveness, avant-gardism , themes, characters and symbols have been rejected, the standard had to be realistic in a form that supported "ideological commitment of  the artist to the depicted subject" and "great pathos that manifest daily struggle and work." Works of many Polish artists contradicted this expected pattern. Polish, graphic designers like  Trepkowski, became the subject of several years of criticism in the meetings that  was attended by artists, critics, art theorists, officials of cultural institutions and publishers, and they often accused of disqualifying socrealistę "formalism" and "naturalism."  For instance,  the stunning poster Grunwald 1410 – Berlin 1945, by Tadeusz Trepkowski in which the artist draws attention to a comparison between the Polish–Lithuanian–Teutonic War of 1410, in which the alliance of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania,  decisively defeated the Teutonic Knights with the dfeat of Berlin at the end of the WWII, was criticized, on the ground that it is a work of "elitist" that ignores the Battle of Stalingrad and its; "symbolism hamperes its impact on mass audience",  and " burdened with the sin of pre-war advertising art, decorative, ranging up to abstraction, where the form does not correspond to the statement. " .The consequences of such actions were sometimes drastic, determining the very existence of the arts itself. The artist could be ostracized and his career come to an abrupt end. 


Jan Lenica, Cul de Sac, 1966

By the Mid-Fifities, the fierce Stalinist approach was somewhat relaxed,  and some artistic expression were tolerated. The Polish film industry was able to prosper. And the graphic designers used their ingenuity to express their artistic visions in dimensions that were beyond the reach of the culture-police.  Furthermore, Polish film producers were able to establish relationships with the western producers, especially in France and Italy. As the Polish film establishment was not concerned  about commercial aspects of the studio demand the poster became artist-driven. Posters  became part of fine art, and instead of being led by the lowest common denominator in public taste, artists shaped the society's taste.  In words of one commentator;  "The artists requested and received complete artistic freedom and created powerful imagery inspired by the movies without actually showing them: no star headshots, no movie stills, no necessary direct connection to the title".  Unburdened by the western  commercial and legal restrictions  Polish graphic designers used film poster venue to flourish their artistic creativity and continued working in the beaux-arts tradition of pictorial and artistic lithography.

Jerzy Flisak, “Pane, amore e..”, Italy 1955. Directed by Dino Risi, 1958

Jerzy Flisak, “Roman Holiday”, US 1953. Directed by William Wyler,  1959

Jerzy Flisak, “The Hitman”, Italy 1960. Directed by Damiano Damiani,  1962

Jerzy Flisak, “Mr Hobbs Takes a Vacation”, US 1962. Directed by Henry Koster.  1965

Wiktor Gorka, “The Professionals”, US 1966. Directed by Richard Brooks. 1968

Jan Lenica, “The Deadly Invention”, Czechoslovakia 1958. Directed by Karel Zeman, 1958

Jan Lenica,“The Visit”, Germany 1964. Directed by Bernhard Wicki, 1965

Jan Mlodozeniec, Magic Village (by J. Chanois, a French-Italian film)
Jan Mlodozeniec, Birth Certificate (by St. Rozewicz, a Polish film), 1961

Eryk Lipinski, “Uliczna Graniczna”, Poland. Directed by Aleksander Ford, 1948

 Eryk Lipinski, “One Sunday Morning”, Poland 1953. Directed by Andrzej Munk, 1955

Eryk Lipinski,  "Le Soldatesse”, Italy/Yugoslavia/West Germany 1965. Directed by Valerio Zurlini, 1966

Eryk Lipinski, Meeting of Criminals, 1966

Marek Mosinski,  Les Tontons flingueurs , France 1963. Directed by Georges Lautner, 1968


Marek Mosinski,  Infanzia, vocazione e primo esperienze di Giacomo Casanova, veneziano , Italy 1969. Directed by Luigi Comencini, 1972


Jerzy Flisak, Brutti, sporchi e cattivi , Italy 1976. Directed by Ettore Scola, 1978

Waldemar Swierzy,   Sunset Boulevard , US 1950. Directed by Billy Wilder, 1957
Maciej Hibner, Pickpocket, France 1959. Directed by Robert Bresson, 1962
Wieslaw Walkuski, Rosemary's Baby, USA, 1968, Roman Polanski,  1984

Michal Ksiazek, Blade Runner, 1982, Directed by Ridley Scott, 2003
Michal Ksiazek, Breakfast at Tiffany's , USA, 1961, director Blake Edwards, 2006

Michal Ksiazek, Leon; the Professional, USA, director  Luc Besson, 2010
Henryk Tomaszewski

In contrast to the western psychedelic shallowness of its  consumer driven culture of the 60s, Polish artistic sensibility gravitated towards a gloomy, cynical skepticism, and often humorously surreal, which were rooted in country's socio-political heritage of a rich and sophisticated culture. Yet the posters  with their sophisticated compositions, stunning color scheme and devoid of any  heavy-handed propaganda symbolism were also quite different from the turgid Socialist Realism practiced in the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries.  Many artists, like Henryk Tomaszewski,  never joined the Communist Party, and having survived Nazi occupation, simply disregarded the officialdom promotion of the socialist art.
Henryk Tomaszewski, Film Poster, Ditta, 1952
Henryk Tomaszewski, Jazz Jamboree 71, 1971

In words of Tomaszewski, "Politics is like the weather, you have to live with it." Tomaszewski was born in 1914 in Warsaw into a family of musicians. who expected him to devote his life to music, but in 1934, he enrolled in the Warsaw Academy of Art to study  painting student. After graduating in 1939, he became interested  in the work of the exiled German satirists Georg Grosz and John Heartfield, and began to draw satiric cartoons and caricatures for the Polish humor magazine Szpilki. During the Nazi occupation he continued to paint, draw, and make woodcuts, all of which were destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising.  After the defeat of Nazis,  he and other graphic designers like Tadeusz Trepkowski and Tadeusz Gronowski, was hired to produce posters for the state-run film distribution agency, Central Wynajmu Filmow.

Henryk Tomaszewski, Film Poster, Obywatel Kane (Citizen Kane), 1948.

Henryk Tomaszewski, Inspector, 1953

In his posters, Tomaszewski tried to capture the mood of the films by using photographic montage, exaggerated perspectives and innovative cropping, in the context of a minimalist compositional approach, using bold colors and abstract shapes.  Instead of standard typeset typefacese, he used abstract collage with expressive lettering for his  Polish Cyrk (circus) posters, which became  a distinct feature of his style. His art benefited from this resistance, since he was forced to come up with concealed satiric images in his work. He stayed clear of overtly political issues and focused entirely on designing posters for cultural institutions and events. During the1952 -1985 period, Tomaszewski  taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where he was a co-director, along with Josef Mroszczak. In 1996, he was paralyzed due to a nerve degeneration. He died in 2005. 

Henryk Tomaszewski, Circus, 1965
Maciej Ździeblan-Urbaniec

Maciej Ździeblan-Urbaniec was born  near Zamość in  1925. He used "Urbaniec" as his nom de guerre during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, and kept it throughout his life. In 1952 he enrolled in a two years program at the National Academy of Plastic Arts in Wrocław, and after completing the program in 1954 he entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw studying in Henryk Tomaszewski’s Poster Studio. He graduated graduated with honours in 1958. He became  Assistant Professor in the Graphic Design Studio at the Department of Painting, Graphics and Sculpture in the National Academy of Plastic Arts in Wrocław in 1970 and five years later assumed the directorship of  Graphic Design Studio of Warsaw’s ASP (Academy of Fine Arts), where he was appreciated and liked by students.

Urbaniec, Leader Of Working Classes Lenin
Don't Make Noise Without Reason

Come and see Polish mountains, Poster for Tourism, 1967
Auschwitz 1945-1965
Work Without Such Wastes
ABC, abc

Card-Index. Rózewicz

Special SARP Congress, 1977

Urbaniec also worked as a graphic designer, on posters for Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy (the State Publishing Institute) for which he created book jackets and posters;   including  a well-known popular science book series – "plus-minus nieskończoność” or “plus-minus infinity". He won a number of awards for  Best Published Novel of the Year  in a competition organized by the State Association of Book Publishers in Poland, a medal in International Editorial Art Exhibition (IBA) in Leipzig and at the International Biennale of Graphic Art in Bern. He was a member of Alliance Graphique International, and  participated in many poster exhibitions in Poland and around the world. In the 1970’s Urbaniec  developed his unique and original style in the form of simple and powerful messages; often with the use of ingenious and humorous photographic props, rich symbolism, iconography, and exceptionally sophisticated  metaphors, such as his last poster, created shortly before his death in 2004, Historia malowana na niebie or History painted in the sky.


Polish Circus Posters

CYRK posters, created over the 1945- 1989 0eriod are the quintessential posters of the golden age of the Polish School of Posters. During this time, the Polish Government financially supported and encouraged poster art.  In 1962,  the state circus agency, the United Entertainment Enterprises (ZPR), commissioned leading artists to develop a modern approach to the circus poster. The aim was a revised look for the circus poster to parallel the circus’ efforts to upgrade its image. These new CYRK posters were of contemporary artistic look with a minimum concern for advertisements in terms of concrete pitch for sale; but rather, an aesthetically pleasing visual communication device that  informed the public that an exciting and modern circus was coming to town. Based usually on a single theme of common symbols––jugglers, clowns, and animals–their metaphors and allusions created a wonderful artistic expression that should not only be viewed, but should also be read, pondered, and digested.

 Antoni Cetnarowski, Upside down cyclist, 1970

Jan Gruszczynski,  bathers on unicycle, 1970
 Jacek Neugebauer, Tightrope walker, 1970

Hubert Hilscher - Circus, 1979

Anna Kozniewska, Gal roller skating, 1971

Jan Sawka, Acrobatic Pyramid, 1975
 Marian Stachurski, Cyrk - Two Clowns, 1979

Jan Mlodozeniec, Circus, 1965

Wiktor Gorka, poster for Circus, 1970
Boguslaw Lustyk, Cyrk - Audience, faces, 1979

New attempts at revival

In 2003, Joanna Gorska and Jerzy Skakun have established Homework, a Warsaw-based studio that has been creating posters for cultural events. Their work is inspired by the simple visual puns of Mieczysław Wasilewski and the playful illustrative style of Witkor Gorka. The artists attempt to create a distinctive style. According to Ellen Lupton they are “bringing the medium [of the Polish poster] back to life, and updating it for the twenty-first century”, Joanna and Jerzy just want their posters “to set themselves apart from the masses, simply through their quality”.

Go to the next chapter; Chapter 38 - Saul Bass, and the Art of Film Title Sequence & Film Poster


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