Poland. Ryszard Kaja (1962–2019)
2 July - 31 October 2021
Format B1 Gallery
Curator: Mariusz Knorowski
The posters that comprise this series were created between 2012 and 2019. It is therefore a closed set containing 163 titles, all of which are presented in the exhibition at the Poster Museum in Wilanów. The Museum’s own collection has been supplemented by a donation from Leszek Jamrozik, trustee and custodian of the artist's legacy.
The "Poland" series is an original concept by Ryszard Kaja, consistently implemented with little in the way of restraint, in a slightly perverse convention, defying the standards that normally apply to the tourist poster category. It is at the same time a diary of sentimental journeys from various periods in his life, as well as an evocation of private memories, as testified by the following statement made by the artist: “I keep receiving proposals, sometimes even very lucrative ones, requests, encouragement to paint some place - NOTHING DOING! This series is fed by my memories, and although they are classified as tourist posters, they feature almost no spectacular monuments, rather they’re my bantering about the country, its culture, art, language, about what I like, about traditions that are sometimes charming, sometimes funny, about customs, enchanting places, sometimes little known, without undue embellishment”.
Humorous visual metaphor plays a dominant role in Kaja's creative method. This is accompanied by a tendency to use plastic puns, and often appearing on the rhetorical level are metonyms, hyperboles and ellipses. Many references are not formulated directly, but by analogy or through strange meandering reminiscence.
At the graphic resources level, apart from painterly gestures, the material of the representations consists of photo-montage, incrustations, collages, contaminations, and even quotations from the works of Zbigniew Kaja, the artist's father. This is somewhat reminiscent of Hrabal's Piękna rupieciarnia (The Junk Shop), the work of a writer who spiritually has much in common with the artist. Places – because not only cities, towns, districts, villages, but also regions, geological relics, nature reserves, national parks, etc. are seen through the prism of Kai's personal memories. Next, they are perversely uprated, sometimes given quasi-magical representation.
To a great extent the popularity of the series has been thanks to this juggling of figures, conventions and variable optics or changes in accents. The pivotal motif focusing the viewer's perception is the title "Poland" itself – graphically treated as the name of our country in a variety of languages and so written in various alphabets, sometimes difficult to recognize. It is Poland as a whole – by implication his private homeland – that organizes this projection of memories. Instead of labelling "landmarks" and representative features, costumes, distinctive landscapes, etc. – the author presented an amusing game of visual forms, often referring to common associations with a specific place, its very "peculiarity", without avoiding the characteristic attributes of local colour, and even signs of the artistic tradition established there, treated equally as the equivalent of a regional product..
One will not find here any undertones expressing contempt, degradation, discrimination or resentment. The creation of a new form of identifying places, despite their previous images, was accompanied by personal narrative in the form of micro-stories with an unequivocally affirmative meaning, posted on the author's Facebook page. Their new interpretation was based on surprising associations, intentional formal treatments, as well as the discovery of inherent qualities in details invisible to the ordinary observer, which can sometimes be overlooked or never even recognized.
Perhaps this was driven by the need to shape a free version of local patriotism, one that was light and unpretentious. A similar phenomenon in marketing practices is referred to as rebranding, involving the creation of a new brand, or the modification or revision of the old one.
Curator Mariusz Knorowski
Ryszard Kaja (January 16th 1962 – April 17th 2019)
Painter, set designer, graphic artist, illustrator, photographer and designer of costumes, interiors and art exhibitions, Ryszard Kaja studied at the State Higher School of Visual Arts in Poznań (presently University of Arts) and was a 1984 graduate of Norbert Skupniewicz’s painting studio. His parents were Zbigniew Kaja – set designer and graphic artist and Stefania Kajowa née Patalas – ceramic artist and painter.
He designed the sets and costumes for the following performances: H. Michaux’s A Certain Plume – Niejaki Piórko (1991, directed by P.B. Jędrzejczak, the Julian Tuwim Studio Theatre'83, Łódź), Athol Fugard's The Road to Mecca – Droga do Mekki – (1992, directed by T. Junak, the Stefan Jaracz Theatre, Łódź), F. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment – Zbrodnia i kara (1993, directed by L. Wosiewicz, the Stefan Jaracz Theatre, Łódź), A. Fredro’s Ladies and Hussars – Damy i huzary (1993, directed by Z. Brzoza, the Stefan Jaracz Theatre, Łódź), S. Beckett’s Happy Days – Szczęśliwe dni (1996, directed by P.B. Jędrzejczak, the Leon Kruczkowski Lubuski Theatre, Zielona Góra), W. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream – Sen nocy letniej (2000, directed by A. Augustynowicz, the Współczesny Theatre, Szczecin).
He designed the set for the television performance of Cracovians and Highlanders – Krakowiacy i Górale (1993, directed by K. Kolberger, National Television Theatre). His Hrabale series of monotypes formed the basis for the artistic concept of the film Marchenbilder – Pictures from Fairy Tales – Marchenbilder – obrazki z bajek (1998, directed by M. Skrobecki), for which he also designed the sets. The film won the Złota Kreska – Drawn in Gold award in the professional film category at the OFAFA National Festival of Animated Films in Kraków.
He was chief stage designer at the Teatr Wielki – Grand Theatre in Łódź (1989–1993), the Opera and Operetta House in Szczecin (1993–1995) and Teatr Wielki im. Stanisława Moniuszki – The Stanisław Moniuszko Grand Theatre in Poznań (1995–1999), also designing the costumes for the same. He also worked with the Wrocław Opera, the Polish Dance Theatre, the Musical Theatre in Łódź, the National Opera in Warsaw and numerous foreign institutions in France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Israel and Egypt.
He created over two hundred sets for theatre, opera, ballet, television and film. Kaja’s most important stage designs include: G. Verdi’s opera Ernani (1990, directed by J.L. Perez, at Teatr Wielki – the Grand Theatre, Łódź), M. Małecki’s Violinist possessed – Skrzypek opętany (1991, directed by E. Wycichowska, at the Polish Dance Theatre – the Poznań Ballet company, Poznań), G. Donizetti’s Viva la mamma! (1991, directed by U. Drechsler, at the Opera House, Wrocław), I. Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring – Święto wiosny (1993, directed by E. Wycichowska, at the Polish Dance Theatre – the Poznań Ballet company, Poznań), J. Stein’s and J. Bock’s Fiddler on the Roof – Skrzypek na dachu (1993, directed by J. Gruza, at Teatr Wielki – the Grand Theatre – the National Opera, Warsaw), F. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment – Zbrodnia i kara (1993, directed by L. Wosiewicz, at the Stefan Jaracz Theatre, Łódź), J. Tuwim’s The Queen of Madagascar’s Soldier – Żołnierz królowej Madagaskaru (1993, directed by K. Kolberger, at the Opera and Operetta House, Szczecin), E. Morricone’s Macbeth – Makbet (1994, directed by J. Makarowski, at Teatr Wielki – the Grand Theatre, Łódź), G. Verdi’s Rigoletto (1994, directed by I. Przegrodzki, at the Opera House, Wrocław ), G. Rossini’s The Barber of Seville – Cyrulik Sewilski (1997, directed by M. Weiss-Grzesiński, at Teatr Wielki im. Stanisława Moniuszki – The Stanisław Moniuszko Grand Theatre, Poznań), G. Puccini’s Madame Butterfly (2000, directed by M. Weiss-Grzesiński, at Teatr Wielki im. Stanisława Moniuszki – the Stanisław Moniuszko Grand Theatre, Poznań).
Beginning in the 1980s, he designed posters – mainly for theatrical performances. His fame and popularity were thanks to a series of posters entitled "Poland", consisting of over 160 works, which he designed between 2012 and 2019.
Kaja’s interior designs included the Stary Browar – Old Brewery arcade in Poznań and exhibition sets – mainly those for the National Museum in Poznań, including: “Vanitas. Coffin portraiture seen against Sarmatian funeral customs”, “Noble heritage or a cursed inheritance. Sarmatian traditions in art and culture", "Centenary of the Grand Theatre in Poznań", "Fashion in the interwar period", "Zbigniew Kaja (1924–1983)", "The Sułkowskis – their life and works" (the District Museum in Leszno).
His many awards and distinctions include: the Golden Mask (1992, 1993, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2019), the Young Art Medal (1998), inclusion on the list of the 100 Best German, Austrian and Swiss Posters in 2010, the Silver Medal at the Poster Biennale in Bolivia (2015), the Silver Medal at Satyrykon in Legnica (2017), the Gold Medal at Satyrykon in Legnica (2018), awards from the Wrocław Branch of the Polish Artists Union (2018), and the Silver Medal at the Poster Biennale in Bolivia (2019).
He sat on the jury at such regular poster competitions as the International Student Poster Biennale in Lublin (2015), the International Student Poster Competition and Skopje Poster Festival (2017), and the BICeBé Bienal del Cartel Bolivia (2015, 2017).
He took part in many collective poster exhibitions, including the International Poster Biennale in Warsaw, the Polish Poster Biennale in Katowice and poster reviews in Toyama, Sofia, Hong-Kong, Moscow, Shanghai, Trnava, and La Paz. Kaja's posters were presented in among other places at the PlakatFest Poster Festival in Chorzów, and at the exhibitions: "Polish Theatre Posters 1899–1999" in Kraków, "All this Music – Polish Music Posters 1899–2012" in Katowice, "Surrealism in Polish Posters" in Bielsko Biała (2015), "Polish Shakespeare posters” in Warsaw (2016) and “Polish Poster Week” in Ankara (2014).
He exhibited his paintings and theatre designs in Poznań, Gniezno, Nowy Tomyśl, Łódź, Barcelona, Berlin, St. Louis, Santa Cruz, La Paz, and Vitebsk. His individual poster exhibition venues included Poznań, Wrocław, Kraków, Warsaw, Legnica, Minsk, Vitebsk, Berlin, Oxford, London, Austin, La Paz, Santa Cruz, Saint Louis, Barcelona, Budapest, New Delhi and Mexico City. The most important of these were his exhibitions at the Pigasus Gallery in Berlin (2010), in the foyer of the Scena Kameralna theatre in Sopot (2012), at the Music Theatre in Łódź (2015), the Dworek Białoprądnicki manor house (2016), the Wybrzeże Theatre (2018), the Municipal Arts Exhibition Office in Leszno (2018), the Bogdan Jarecki Wieża Ciśnień Centre for Plastic Arts in Kalisz (2019), and the Gardzienice Gallery in Lublin (2019). Two review exhibitions were held: in the Arsenał Municipal Gallery in Poznań (2016) and in the Stary Browar – Old Brewery in Poznań (2019).
Kaja's posters feature in the collections of the Poster Museum in Wilanów (a branch of the National Museum in Warsaw), the National Museum in Poznań, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw and the Raczyński Library in Poznań.
Ryszard Kaja, Leszek Jamrozik (photo)