Virtual Museum


Polish Poster of 20th century 


                                                                                                                                                                        «pictura est laicorum»
                                                                                                                                                                         Umberto Eco, II nome della rosa

The Image
The perception of the poster and the reaction to its presence is an involuntary act, which occurs casually, not to say automatically. It can be depreciated still more when it is considered as superficial, incomplete, emotionally indifferent. Of course, the poster imposes on our perceptions in a coquettish and challenging manner - that is the unwritten code of the street.
Daily intercourse with a plethora of images attacking our sense of sight leaves us in a state of apathy, belittling meanings inherent in the images. To familiarize oneself with the immense number of signs supplied by modern civilization is impossible, more so - purposeless. So if we can overcome the apathy and devote some attention to the images we encounter, we will find pleasure and a special satisfaction which is in proportion to our knowledge of the history of imagery.

The poster is a popular and egalitarian product. It does not require of its public any special competence. There are no necessary consequences, either of aesthetic or substantial nature, that come from the meeting with the poster, at least as long as we maintain the indifference of the passer-by. There is even empirical proof that the intended effect of the poster is missed as a rule or fails to fulfil expectations. The commercial strategy of advertisement continues to focus on perfecting methods of persuasion to avoid similar situations.
But when the reading of the message is conscious, when we have made the effort to study particular images included in publications, the effect is quite different. The poster becomes a relic of the ionosphere, a fragment of it which is preserved by some strange twist of fate and which recalls passing time. Entering such space provides a sense of well-being, focuses attention and facilitates the passage among «preserved» signs. Their concurrence, the closeness effect, mutual conflict and dialogue - all serve as a pretext to a fascinating game of the imagination. Taken out of the context of city landscapes, liberated from their role of e reference, the posters become individual entities, inwardly free. They become the object of concentrated reflection and aesthetic enjoyment. By resurrecting the past, they can help to reconstruct it, renew forgotten meanings and individual memories. This is what the intimate side of the poster is like, the side which is not accessible in the present, when the poster is to be seen in a public place.

The poster is an artifact. It is made intentionally with the task of passing on certain ideas, values and information, as a herold of events to come or simply as the common medium of advertisement. In visual communication, this is its reason for being and it imposes formal rigors: that it be perceptible, commonly understood, evoking universal human emotions. The effectiveness of this kind of message is conditioned, therefore, by the artistic form which supersedes geographical, cultural and chronological distances. To phrase an aphorism, there isn’t a place where a good poster wouldn’t feel at home and just anybody can become a resident there.

To design a poster it is not enough to have the workshop skills. The difficulty is how to express a compact semantic structure, the message of the communication, by way of a closed artistic structure. This codependence and agreement constitutes the essence of the poster which often reflects idiomatic relations that cannot be expressed verbally and so raise difficulties for individual perception, e.g. representatives of different communities, generations, iconographic traditions. Obviously, the artistic form should be sufficiently archetypal or "transparent* to avoid errors in interpretation.
There is something like magic in this phenomenon. Magic likewise takes advantage of analogy, persuasion and suggestion to create an illusion of reality that is contrary to the common perception of the senses. It is not without reason that we speak of the «magic of the image», although we do not care to admit that we succumb to it daily. Regardless of whether we admit to being susceptible to the magical force of images or not, the following supposition deserves attention:
1.     the poster is created as an image;
2.     it is perceived as an image;
3.     being an i m a g e, it is subject to the universal laws of interpretation;
4.     as an image, it is remembered and preserved in our own private ‘museum of the imagination’.

Its intrinsic feature is that it is an image that has not been seen (in the sense of recording nature, mimesis) but has been conceived. It means that from beginning to end it is an individual projection, curbed by the rigors of form, intellectually disciplined and synthetic in the imagery. It thus achieves a certain compactness and artistic tectonics, and reinforces the expression conveyed by the textual side. Its composition is remarkably «centripetal» in nature, to the extent that we perceive it as a «world closed onto itself», an autonomic place which is clearly separate from the real world outside.

The poster which can be a meta-artistic work (that is a work which uses art to speak of art), comes into focus as the essence of the individual experience of another work. This work is reimagined to come into being as an image which appears in public. This is its brief existential moment, but extremely intense as it is multiplied in so many copies. The moment is spent and exhausted, the information prescribed. And then it is inevitably doomed to oblivion.
It survives only when it adds the value of an authentic experience to that of the subject. But beyond everything, it is the artistic form which ensures that it is preserved in the civilizational attic of history. The poster indisputably belongs to the important texts of a culture and it is at the same time a reliable witness. In speaking of the artist, it also speaks of the audience and their contemporaneous time.
The poster reflects history. It must participate in it as intended, creating its «pictorial» chronicle. It thus becomes a historical source, in terms of both facts
and iconography. Unexpectedly, it creates its own history, which is contained in the surviving copies. They testify to its presence in History. In this way historical reality is transformed into museum reality.
The history of the Polish poster was not always in accordance with the development of this discipline in other countries. The vicissitudes that were encountered are a derivative of involvement in History, but the story of the Polish poster remains an integral part of the General History of the Image.

The Illustration
Modernism which corresponds in Poland to the «Mloda Polska» (Young Poland) period (1890-1910), was an intellectual stimulus for the communities in Cracow, Lvov and Warsaw. Despite hardly favorable historical circumstances, national values and the Romantic tradition were cultivated with pietism, becoming a source of artistic inspiration. Culture and art remained the force behind the preservation of national identity. This found expression in Jan Matejko being raised to glory as the national painter and Stanisław Wyspiański being heralded as one of the bards of Polish poetry. Despite restrictive policies introduced by the partitioning powers, community of spiritual values preserved in the literature and arts molded the identity of a nation without sovereignty.
The institutions of cultural and scholarly life were concentrated in the large towns, emanating from there to the provinces. In the late 19th century, when the rigors of separation imposed by the partition treaties diminished to some extent, the gradual process of a relative, mutual exchange began. Information penetrating the cordons encouraged the intellectual elites to intensify efforts on behalf of the restoration of the Polish State. The vision of restoring independence and uniting the country in its historical boundaries also took into consideration attachment to the European artistic tradition.

Cracow led the way in familiarizing new artistic fads and trends coming from England, France, Germany and Austria. Partial administrative autonomy and a very special intellectual climate prevalent in the city fostered these processes.
Thus, also poster art was presented here for the first time, in 1898, in the City Technical and Industrial Museum.
The show gathered an impressive collection of 250 prints, including works by the creators of the modern poster: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jules Cheret, Theophile Alexandre Steinlen, Pierre Bonard, Eugene Grasset, Alphonce Mucha, Dudley-Hardy, The Beggarstaff Brothers (William Nicholson and James Pryde), William Bradley.

The Polish section was modest indeed - just 15 posters, but among them works by artists of the caliber of Teodor Axentowicz, Juliusz Kossak considered the nestor of Polish battle painting, and Piotr Stachiewicz.
On this occasion, the Museum’s director and the moving spirit of the whole project, Jan Wdowiszewski made every effort to prepare the first publications, a catalogue and guide to the exhibition, providing a deep analysis of the rudiments of the new art. Authoritatively proclaiming the poster as an art form, the author was full of promise for the new discipline, encouraging Polish artists and explaining the usefulness of this form, while anticipating the decline of the anachronic bourgeoise aesthetics and its criteria.
The commentator’s enthusiasm soon fired the imagination of renowned artists who so far had avoided the popular arts. Attractive posters soon appeared. Although sometimes they copied foreign models, yet they were clearly distinguishable from the generally imported anonymous work of skilled artisans.

The early Polish posters reveal a good understanding of the essence of this new type of expression. They feature a certain independence in the interpretation of the subject and an appropriate artistic form. The imagery was still deeply dependent upon the painterly convention which the artists found impossible to forgot, having mostly grown from this tradition. Since these posters were for the most part announcements of various social and anniversary events, they held on to the form of blown-up invitations. The technique of lithography placed no limits upon evoking the epic anegdote, nor did it encumber the daring of a dynamic gesture. Yet the focus was on silhouettes with clear contours and a neutral background. The main motif was intuitively jewelled with color. The manner was official and decorative, easily distinguished from the cheap advertisement posters which took advantage of naive stereotypes often on the verge of kitsch.

The artistically ambitious poster was signed with the artist s name. At times the author himself produced the drawing on the lithographic stone and aided the printer in printing the poster. In other instances, he limited himself to just the part with the drawing, leaving space for the lettering. [17] In most cases, however, the posters are entirely the product of the artist. It is because poster art was treated by artists as an expression of individual creativity and not as a factor of forced conformism pandering to common tastes.

In a class by itself is Stanisław Wyspiański' poster for a lecture to be given by Stanisław Przybyszewski. It uses a drawing that was already known but copies it, conscious that it will thus emphasize the intellectual factor, rather than the formal one, by focusing on a psychological study of the figure. At the same time it establishes a climate of mystery hidden from the eye, which takes place somewhere in the viewer’s space, outside the space of the poster.
How traditional means of expression were transcribed is well exemplified by the early posters of Karol Frycz, an artist not reluctant to use grotesque and caricature. [8]
Cracow artists were aware of the program embraced by William Morris and John Ruskin, as expressed in the achievements of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Morris and Ruskin both put forward the same assumptions and were aware of their mission. From this point on their efforts would concentrate upon penetrating and intervening in the neglected spheres of visual culture. They will proclaim the goals of aestheticizing the form, general artistic education, integration of the artistic disciplines. Wyspiański proved faithful to this ideology in practice, when he became the first modern artistic director of the Cracow weekly «Zycie» (Life) and paid attention to the distinct graphic image of the paper as a whole. The same orientation surfaced in editing, opening the way to the ideology of the «beautiful book».

In 1901 the «Polska Sztuka Stosowana» (Polish Applied Art) Society was estab¬lished. Members included Jan Bukowski, Józef Czajkowski, Karol Frycz, Kazimierz Sichulski, Edward Trojanowski, Henryk Uziembło, Stanisław Wyspiański. Most of the artists had already done posters, testifying to a modern understanding of the role of graphic designing in mass circulation. The Society arranged for a Printing Exhibition to be held in Cracow in 1904. The exhibition provided the opportunity to evaluate the editing standards achieved in so short a time. Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts were also shown as an example of the democratic art. Fascination with this art was expressed on several occasions. An attentive formal analysis, imitation of the composition, choice of artistic means and techniques of imagery were important stimuli, which had direct influence upon the aesthetics of painting and graphic arts, the poster included. The source of inspiration is easily traced in the works of Wojciech Jastrzębowski, Wojciech Weiss and others. [9,13]

Concurrently the fashionable stylistic trends of Art Nouveau, Jugendstil and the Viennese Secession were adopted. Lettering was imitated to a relatively insignificant extent. The similarity was revealed rather in the composition schemes which approached the form of monumental panneaux and stained glass windows. This explains the frequent appearance of affected para-theatrical gestures and staged scenes. This tendency is apparent in the works of Leopold Gottlieb, Piotr Stachiewicz, Kazimierz Sichulski and Edward Trojanowski. [5, 6, 12, 15].
The conventional treatment of space and the linear and summarily rendered drawing had a favorable influence upon the clarity of the plastic structure, imbuing the works with the specific features of the poster. Elaborate arabesque was willingly used as a decorative ornament. A woman’s silhouette appeared coquettishly among the scrolling - it was the period’s inherent attribute, shown according to the canon created by Mucha. In Poland, Teodor Axentowicz’s art seems to be the counterpart of this.

The local folk art also served as inspiration (particularly the Podhale mountain region), reflecting the Young Poland movement’s ideological fascination with the peasant. Folk art provided not only specific motifs, but also naive scenic compositions which were identical with those used in the contemporary poster, with disregard for conventional, three-dimensional space and convergent perspective. These motifs can be found in some of the works of Józef Mehoffer and Włodzimierz Tetmajer.
Another source of formal borrowings were the illuminated medieval manuscripts and the archaizing ornaments of historical styles. They are to be observed in the works of Hanna Gramatyka-Ostrowska. [3]

Artistic life in Warsaw at the time failed to have a similarly intense rhythm, but artists were deeply involved with the same problems, mainly referring to the aesthetics of printing and editing. Similar innovative propositions appeared, growing from the same sentiments.
The dominating trend, however, was a traditionalism originating from illustration. Among the poster artists one should mention: Edward Butrymowicz, Waclaw Czerny, Piotr Krasnodębski, Stanisław Kuczborski, Józef Tom. The market for commercial advertisement was filled by foreign models in the same way as in Galicia. [11, 14,19]

The oldest surviving title in the collection of the Poster Museum at Wilanów is a poster encouraging people to take advantage of the services of the Steamboat Company of Maurycy Fajans. The announcement reveals clear inspiration by contemporary Russian models: a border around the whole composition, the bright colors and partly superimposed backgrounds. What is characteristic of Warsaw woodcutting is the so-called «comb» effect obtained with a pointed engraver and tinted with color. Despite a certain naivete of the representation, the «acoustic» effect deserves note, emphasized still further by the gesture and facial expression of the boatman who is calling to the viewer. Similar ideas appear in other posters of the time. [ 1 ] There were the inevitable references to Secession and some late reminiscences of it are to be seen in the early works of Stefan Norblin and in Tadeusz Gronowski’s first poster. [20, 21 ]

In Lvov, a recognized sculptor and painter Feliks M. Wygrzywalski and the battle painter Stanisław Kaczor-Batowski also did posters which betrayed their painter’s temperament. [31] Working in Vilnius, Ferdynand Ruszczyc was obviously fascinated with the exotic character of the Russian group «Mir Iskusstwa». Just as in Cracow and Warsaw, the poster in the other centers also served as the required confection of all the more important events, both cultural and religious.
The status of poster art grew immensely after 1918. The general enthusiasm as a result of the newly established statehood, the concentration of public life in the capital and a whole series of political and cultural facts resulted in the period abounding in events commemorated by posters. Posters took part in social actions, supported the activities of charity organizations, announced festivals, collections, concerts, lotteries and balls. Echoes of the euphoria prevalent then and an expression of social mission are to be observed in the works of Jerzy Gelbard and Bogdan Nowakowski. [22, 24, 29]

The poster was also made to serve the state. Political parties soon started to use its agitational qualities to give reality a sense of currency and to present their political programs (Sejm elections in 1922), and warn against the bolshevik threat. [27, 28]
During the 1920 war the poster called for military action and for participation in it. There were mature works of graphic designing, lost in a sea of amateur and dilettante prints, distributed in many hundreds of copies. Occasionally, there is even reason to speak of an intentionally naive style which drew upon the folk woodcut and was meant to give a devilishly monstrous image of the enemy. Strong slogans were illustrated with equally strong drawings. It is hardly surprising that these posters generated noble patriotic emotions just as much as fear of the coming Apocalypse. Obviously, this argumentative style most effectively addressed the common imagination.
A similar strategy was used by Stanisław Ligoń and Antoni Romanowicz in their posters supporting the action on behalf of the Polishness of Upper Silesia at the time of the plebiscite. [30]
In other cases, the rhetorics of the picture drew upon the Romantic philosophy of history personi¬fied by the legendary Polonia and the warriors of the first Piast dynasty kings. These historicizing matrices represent typical allegorical models which call to mind 19th-century patriotic iconography. Bogdan Nowakowski was particularly fluent in this kind of representation. [23]
Thus, the poster of the period was not limited to just one stylistic formula. The open convention was susceptible to a variety of artistic searchings and admitted the equality of the formal variants that were used. Motifs ranged from traditional heraldic and emblematic compositions to bucolic, picturesque-style representations with mythological and contemporary figures. [16,18]

An autonomous artistic language seems to have appeared spontaneously and was adapted to the times. The consequence was a new type of representation which indeed originated from illustration, but was no longer simply an illustration. A credible image of the world and a narrative quality, features which earlier constituted the poster’s essence, yielded now to a conventional mystification in a single act.

The twenties were characterized by accelerated industrialization. Free market mechanisms and growing competition fired the development of advertisement. An attractive poster helped to get a product noticed and promoted the producer. Advertisements and commercial posters became part of the trading ritual. A natural demand developed for professionals with the proper skills and understanding of advertising strategy. There was a general obsession with modernity, so the effective poster could not be just an illustration with explanatory text. The promotion techniques required a skillfully constructed artistic paraphrase to evoke the intended psychological reaction. Increasingly often, it was understood that the new prints had to compete with each other. Consequently, emphasis was placed upon the chromatic valors of the poster. [42,48]

The first to receive a regular education in this field were the students of the Department of Architecture of the Warsaw University of Technology. Handdrawing was chaired by Zygmunt Kamiński from 1915, perspective drawing by Edmund Bartlomiejczyk from 1918. Their interest in book illustration, applied graphic designing and poster art dated to an earlier period of study at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts.
Bartlomiejczyk and Kamiński took up issues of pictorial graphic designing, which corresponded well with the type of spatial imagination characteristic of architecture students. In these circles, the designing of graphic forms was considered a kind of «test of intelligence and was understood as the ability to design functional forms whose composition would correspond to architectural construction. This thinking thus countered the traditional outlook of workshop graphic designing which combined illusionistic space with decorative confection. [26, 33] The process of implementing a modern artistic language which would correspond to European standards had been initiated.
These new interests soon gave rise to a separate tradition, while the phenomenon itself, which was christened «the graphic art of the architects, established one of the two fundamental trends in Polish applied graphic art of the period following the first world war. It was characterized by emphasis on the general disposition of the form and the rigorous and indisputed subordination of the subject to it. The style that was generated bore clear modernistic characteristics and revealed a fascination with the rationalizing aesthetics of Cassandre. The first generation of this school is represented by Jerzy Gelbard, Tadeusz Gronowski and Jan Mucharski, but their early work did not yet hold promise of such radical change.

The stormy period also witnessed the appearance of an avant-garde, represented by the Formist movement, which stood for a pronounced break with the mimetic tradition in favor of an expressionistic interpretation. Fascinations with the Cubist experience and the phraseology of futuristic manifests sometimes led to iconoclastic provocations. The episode is marked by a series of posters announcing the exhibitions of this formation over a period of several years. The authors included Tytus Czyżewski, Zbigniew Pronaszko, Wacław Wąsowicz, Romuald Kamil Witkowski and Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz.
They failed, however, to provoke a revolution in the aesthetics of the Polish poster, nor did they derail its orientation. The episode ended in compromise. Rhythmic methods of composition are certainly the heritage of Formism, improving the dynamics of the picture.
Equally episodic in character were Henryk Berlewi’s travails to adapt the lessons of Constructivism. He propagated an alternative version of ‘mechano advertising’ for which he devised a convincing ideology discriminating illustration. His propositions demonstrated a consistent and analytical approach to the principles of modern lettering and an orthodox respect for the rules of abstract composition devoid of figural connotations. What Berlewi emphasized was the economy which rivaled the more time-consuming drawing techniques. [34]

The radical propositions from Bauhaus circles met with equally restrained response. Beside isolated cases of occasional prints designed by Mieczysław Szczuka and Teresa Żarnowerówna, later by Mieczysław Berman, the Polish poster avoided using photography and photomontage. It should be noted that at the time this particular medium was considered synonymous with modernity, while offset print permitted faithful reproduction.
The Atelier Plakat (Poster Studio) was founded in 1923 by Jerzy Gelbard, Tadeusz Gronowski and Jan Mucharski. Team work soon became the working fashion. It helped to complete large commissions, which were not limited to graphic designing, but included decoration and organization of exhibitions. Atelier Plakat earned widespread applause for its design of the display of the 4th International Oriental Fair in Lvov in 1924.
The legendary poster Radion sam pierze (Radion Washes by Itself) was Gronowski’s own idea. [45] The poster was made for the Schicht concern and its appearance in the streets brought a marked response. For many adepts of graphic designing, it became the quintessence of the «true» poster and a signpost for their own artistic development. Fascination with motion film and techniques of dynamic montage indisputably played a role in the realization of this idea. From the moment this poster appeared, it is possible to speak of a partnership dialogue with European art.

The first spectacular success of Polish designing abroad came at the International Decorative Arts Exhibition held in Paris in 1925. The Grand Prix in the Art Publicitaire department went to Tadeusz Gronowski and Zofia Stryjeńska.Teodor Axentowicz, Jan Bukowski, Ludwik Gar- dowski, Karol Frycz, Zygmunt Kamiński, Antoni Procajlowicz, Felicjan Szczęsny Kowarski, Edward Tro¬janowski, Henryk Uziembło all received diplomas and medals. The Polish section was received with considerable interest. Stryjenska’s «Polish folk and traditional gentry poetics and Wojciech Jastrzębowski’s dignified stylization (herringbone motifs) were intended by the authors as the spark to ignite a national style. This was a time of search for a national identity in art, manifested by references to folklore traditions and interpretations of its forms in the modern spirit.

The quality of Polish printing also generated admiration, particularly the Artistic Lithography of Władysław Główczewski from Warsaw, a mentor of poster art and close friend to many artists.
At the time, Tadeusz Gronowski was unquestionably the leading figure on the Polish graphic scene. The poster convention which he introduced became the generally accepted standard. His Art Deco style works were perfectly suited to the climate of the period and revealed the pulsing public life in easy and readily assimilated form. [43]

Equally at home in Paris and Warsaw, Gronowski quickly adapted new models coming from France. Starting in 1928, he popularized the so-called spray technique, adding the aerograph to the graphic artist’s workshop. The subtle color modulations which he obtained with this technique, made even more interesting by the glowing contours, compared his works to blinking neon signs. The completely new and vibrating palette of colors resulted in exceptional artistic quality and bore heavily on the poster aesthetics of the period. [52, 55]
Stefan Norblin, recognized painter of the social elites and author of unusual posters, occupied a special position at the same time. He had the same approach to his occupation as his rival: He was always at the client’s service, taking into account the client’s expectations. Yet he managed to leave a distinct stamp on every work, so that his individual style was easily distinguishable, whether the poster announced an important event or a penny dreadful novel. [39, 53]

In the mid - 1920s, he prepared a whole series of tourist posters for the Polish State Railways on commission from the Ministry of Communication. The posters advertised the more important regions and cities of Poland, local attractions and folklore. [40]
While Gronowski’s work remained under the influence of Cassandre, Norblin’s work was close to the art of another contemporary great of the poster - Ludwig Hohlwein. The style of the figures is similar, so is the use of bold contrasts, the color dissonances and an intuitive sense of incompletely defined space.

The only operating specialistic Applied Graphic Design Workshop was established in 1926 at the School of Fine Arts (renamed the Academy of Fine Arts in 1932). It was headed by Bartlomiejczyk and offered a specialistic course in graphic designing. Composition of Planes and Forms was a special topic taught by Wojciech Jastrzębowski. The program of the course assured students knowledge of the theory of designing combined with principles of visual perception. It is against such a background that the morphology of the poster was discussed. This didactic experiment without prece¬dence in artistic teaching provided students with firm theoretical foundations and opened the way to professional careers in a field which was slowly gaining the status of an independent discipline. [35]

In 1929 the Polish poster was shown abroad - first in Munich, then in Stuttgart - and passed the test with flying colors. It entered the catalogue of European art. Increasingly often, Polish posters were reproduced in recognized magazines devoted to the graphic arts, such as «Gebrauchsgraphik», «Arts et Metiers Graphiques», «Commercial Art».
In 1930, the City Industrial Museum in Cracow held a National Exhibition of Announcements and Advertising Prints. Once again there was the opportunity to recapitulate the successes of the Polish poster and to make a statement about its condition. The show included the pioneers of the field and their successors.
The magazine «Grafika» (Graphic Art) started being published by the Union of Polish Graphic Artists in 1930. Gronowski was its first editor and later co-owner. A number of articles and penetrating studies on the poster appeared on its pages, justifying the ennoblement of the poster as a work of art. Compared with the foreign poster, the Polish poster failed to develop any specific features of style. It was characterized by a rather conservative approach to its own past and a certain restraint in experimenting. There were many novelties in the conception, but at the workshop level tradition prevailed. Sometimes the means of expression were already modern, but there remained a respect for the past and a somewhat archaistic point of view. The influence of Bartłomiejczyk and Kamiński, as well as of the graphic «school» of Władysław Skoczylas, must have left its mark on this state of affairs, especially since the trio was instrumental in creating the official canon of art in the period. [46,50,51 ]

The thirties ushered in the mature poster in Poland. At this time graphic designing and workshop graphic art finally and definitely parted ways in terms of ideas, as well as methods and techniques. Working individually or for advertising agencies, graphic artists provided their services to state monopolies, central institutions and foreign concerns of the likes of Colgate, Ford, General Motors, Palmolive, Philips. [54]
The Advertising Graphic Art Atelier of the Polish Telegraphic Agency (PAT) ruled the market. Taking example from the West, the Atelier came out with the initiative to publish a luxury edition of the Annual of Polish Advertising Graphic Art (two almanacs, in 1935 and in 1938).
International events and fairs requiring artistic designing and publicity took place seasonally. [56,66]

The Institute for Art Propaganda (IPS) was official patron of close to seventy poster competitions. The Institute of Social Affairs (ISS) implemented extensive healthcare and work safety programs with the aid of posters.
The poster took on the role of a means of education and its privileged status among techniques of collective persuasion seems unquestioned.
In 1933, with the support of the Polish Advertising Union, professional graphic artists initiated the Circle of Advertising Graphic Artists (KAGR). Edmund Bartłomiejczyk was called upon to become the first president. KAGR operated as a kind of lobby, supervising the professional interests of the group. Its competences included an ethic code of the profession, mediation between partners and clients, copyright regulations. It also regularly organized shows and presentations (a total of seven before 1939), which included a current catalogue of models and offers.
The entire graphic artist elite was associated then in KAGR (in 1939 there were 49 members). The association cooperated with other institutions involved in advertising and official propaganda. Members were required to record their affiliation next to their signature. [81]
The fast lifestyle of the period favored interesting debuts. Students of the Architectural Department continued to lead the way: Adam Bowbelski, Jerzy Hryniewiecki, Maciej Nowicki, Stefan Osiecki, Jan Poliński, Stanisława Sandecka, Jerzy Skolimowski, Andrzej Stypiński, Marian Walentynowicz. [49, 57, 65, 75, 79].
The propositions of these artists fascinated viewers with their unassuming simplicity, excellent composition and elegant coloring. At times, the works seem to be graphic poems more than anything else, intimate in nature, shying away from loud, imposing forms. This is especially true of the works of the tandem Nowicki-Sandecka, which are extremely cultured in plastic terms. While avoiding pompous rhethorics, these works are suggestive in inclining to deep thought. [69, 70, 71]
A similar phenomenon can be observed in the posters of Tadeusz Piotrowski, whose sublime forms are a magnet to the eye. [61]

Most of these works use subtle persuasion to intrigue the viewer’s imagination and sensitivity. Grotesque and humor often appear, written into the elegant shapes. Frivolity and hedonistic accents, the landmarks of the period, are frequently present. [62]
The tandem Jan Levitt - Jerzy Him showed off a true conceptual acrobatics. Fluent in techniques of photomontage, they demonstrated surprising associations of ideas resulting from a play with objects and unexpected contexts. They were masters of subtle, miniature metaphors which reached the sub-conscious directly through the senses. Their method reveals obvious connections with the games of the surrealists. [68]

Similar effects, expressed in a similar poetics, were achieved by the graduates of Bartłomiejczyk’s Graphic Art Faculty of the Warsaw Academy: Bohdan Bocianowski, Jerzy Karolak, Eryk Lipiński, Konstanty Maria Sopoćko, Roman Szałas. The team of Atelier Mewa, which also made a strong mark for itself, included Jadwiga Hladki, Edward Manteuffel and Antoni Wajwód, all of them students of Bartłomiejczyk.
Their activity found expression in a variety of designing fields, including decoration, in which they achieved interesting results. They treated their propositions unconventionally, suiting the technique to the nature of the subject. [82]
They introduced the original technique of paper art which thanks to secondary photographic exposition gave surprising shadow effects that went far to create a poetic climate.
As for lettering, the duo Anatol Girs and Bolesław Barcz enjoyed considerable success; they introduced the «Militari» type for the Central Military Library. Their interests were reflected by posters of a highly disciplined nature in formal terms. [63]

The work of Cracow artists seemed to lie on the antipodes of the already modern graphic designing trend. Some of these artists obstinately stayed with the anachronic, illustrative manner. Regional elements added unquestioned charm to their work, testifying to continued focus on crystallizing ideas for a national style. The art of Witold Chomicz, Franciszek Seifert, Zofia Stryjeńska and Henryk Uziembło remained in this canon. [80, 84, 88, 89]
Wojciech Kossak, who consciously drew upon national sentiments, also kept to this conservative style. The poster showing the Polish Fiat competing with a mountaineer’s horse team is an excellent example. It also testifies to a deeply ingrained painting tradition in the Polish poster, a tradition which gave rise to the poster and to which the poster would occasionally return in the future. [67]

Painting forms, the color spot and synthetic drawing are to. be seen in the works of Manteuffel and Wajwód, generously mixed with fantasy and freedom in composing the picture. Wiktor Langner was similarly disposed. [85]
The debutants of the time, Eryk Lipiński and Henryk Tomaszewski, used a similar workshop which was later to become the signature of the Polish Poster School.
Propositions to cross the boundaries of static perception, to go beyond the figural stereotype dressed in colorful folk costume, were relatively rare. Con-sidered a synonym of the period, dynamism appeared in the work of Kazimierz Mann with the inevitable motif of a train.
The undercurrent of fear generated by approaching war was reflected in a series of posters by Zygmunt Kosmowski for the Anti Aircraft and Gas League (LOPP). [76]
Troubled times saw the return of the poster to public service as a propaganda means used to highlight patriotic slogans and categorical imperatives. [87,90]
Polish applied graphic art triumphed at the International Exhibition of Art and Technology in Modern Life, held in Paris in 1937. Polish artists received a total of 33 prizes, including 26 for KAGR members. Grand Prix laureates included Adam Bowbelski, Tadeusz Trepkowski, Czeslaw Wielhorski.

At the World Exhibition in New York in 1939, the work of Polish artists once again earned recognition. Present were representatives of the younger generation - Lipiński and Tomaszewski, along with Jan Poliński and Marek Żuławski. These young artists brought a youthful vigor and new ideas to the field.
Bolesław Surałło’s poster Wara! (Hands off!) was an expression of national pride and the last cry of the Second Polish Republic.
The traditional scheme of the hero slaying the beast returned in it. The poster appeared in the streets of Polish cities in September 1939.

Then came the long night of World War II. The poster Was a soldier in it from the start, announcing to the world the dramatic position of isolated Poland. [92]
It accompanied the Polish soldier on all the battle- fronts. Many poster artists shared the refugees’ fate. Not one collaborated with the occupant, nor were then any examples of servilism. In the vacuum, artistic life went underground. Polish posters once again appeared on the streets of the Polish capital during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, published then by the Office for Information and Propaganda of the Home Army’s Main Headquarters.
Graphic studios followed the battle fronts, hurriedly printing propaganda leaflets. Disregarding the ideological content and the sometimes ominous texts, these prints called for increased military effort. The Propaganda Poster Studio with the Main Political and Educational Board of the National Army, headed by Włodzimierz Zakrzewski, printed over 60 stenciled titles and immediately started machine printing once it had settled in Łódź.

The war poster referred to the classic iconography known from an earlier period. The motifs and symbols formed a closed repertoire which was encountered also in other countries and even on the other side of the battleline. One can indeed speak of the enslaving force of stereotypes. But it is also confirmation for the thesis about the universality of poster expression which under certain circumstances achieves equivalence. [94]

The war left a ravaged landscape, also in artistic life. The institutions were gone, the artists decimated, the accomplishments lost. The bruised artistic imagination could no longer stay in the realm of fantasy. But gradually the country was rebuilt and artistic practice returned.
This process was the quickest to occur and was the most noticeable in the work of graphic artists, who rose to the challenge of the times. A spontaneous participation in public life is the nature of a profession which always accompanies events. One thing was clear: there was no return to the idyllic thirties, the winds of war had blown away that particular aroma. [96]
Meanwhile, the artistic decision had to be a political declaration: accepting a situation in direct contradiction to prewar memories. No longer desirable, visual advertising was removed from circulation. The new constituents expected the poster to be active in changing History. It soon became an instrument of agitation and indoctrination. It was supposed to present an ideology that was foreign and sounded ominous. It branded and dishonored the ethos of soldiers of the Polish Underground. It instructed and promised, and established accepted norms of behavior. It participated in political campaigns, such as the referendum in 1946, expressing categorical imperatives.

The victory required apotheosis as did the heroic effort of the soldiers. Martyrology cried out for remembrance and as a warning. Not surprisingly, the old iconographic conventions were resurrected. They had tested educational value and illustrated current emotions in pictorial form. [99] Emblematic compositions appeared again, featuring attributes, props and symbols imbued with traditional meaning. In a sense, the situation was analogous to the one following the previous war, only the contents was drastically different: a new social order, the worker-peasant union, statements of loyalty and eternal friendship. To lessen the resistance, euphemisms were used on a wide scale to veil the actual state of revolutionary transformation.

Central institutions set the official line and interpretation of state propaganda. At first the Agency of Artistic Propaganda, established in 1945, was charged with this task. Independent interpretation was neither wanted nor allowed. By necessity, the poster errorlessly recited rhetoric phrases under the dictate of party officials. The rhetorical nature of the contents went hand in hand with a suggestive form, which was to be easily assimilated by the collective public, according to the wishes of the sender. One might even go as far as to say that the whole system of propaganda was contained in a series of pictograms which helped find the way in an unknown social space. The omnipresent censor’s office (Main Office for the Control of the Press, Publications and Performances, decreed into existence in 1946) was to watch over the loyalty of artists. Some authors soon developed this ability to an extent even greater than required.

The prewar generation -Witold Chomicz, Tadeusz Gronowski, Jerzy Karolak, Konstanty Maria Sopoćko - continued to work in the style of the thirties. Their works still represented a reliable classic workshop, elegant and dignified form, excellent composition and attention to detail. If the subject had no political connotations, there was a natural continuation of poster conventions, coinciding with current tendencies in other countries. [100, 108]
There was also the inevitable interest in new trends. Elements of the abstract emerged, along with deformation and an expressionistic element. This orientation is to be found in some of the works of Bohdan Bocianowski, Marian Bogusz, Eryk Lipiński, Henryk Tomaszewski, Wojciech Zamecznik. [107, 110]
The innovations introduced by these authors, particularly in the fields of cultural information and the film poster, destroyed many existing stereotypes. In place of coquettish, mawkish and often shoddy portraits of heroes, there was now a provoking game with the viewer’s imagination, a grotesque, a psychological study of the characters accompanying the naive perceptions characteristic of a child’s sensitivity. The novelty lay in the completely new poetics of the image which consciously employed the plastic metaphor. [101-105, 109, 112, 113]

Observed at a distance, the phenomenon took shape as a clearly defined style of the forties which became especially apparent as unconventional interpretations of the motion film theme. In essence, it was the same style of picture composition as in the late thirties, but transferred into the forties. This should not be construed as a charge of epigonism, rather it serves to confirm certain regularities of development.
The Polish offer at the International Poster Exhibition in Vienna in 1948 was received as a promise of a new artistic phenomenon. Polish artists were winners once again and their success was noted in the important opinion-forming magazines “Modern Publicity” and “Art & Industry”.
The turning point came in 1949. Previous artistic practice was subjected to annihilative and tendentious criticism. Charges of formalism, cosmopolitism and decadence were sounded ominously. The Communist party steered the monopolized system of information (institutionally, Department of Artistic and Graphic Publications (DWAG), later called Artistic and Graphic Publications (WAG)) and effectively enforced an aesthetic conformism. This state of affairs had to be accepted if the artist was to work in his profession. [114]

Demands were made to uniformize art in accordance with the principles of socialist realism. Art was supposed to be "nation¬al in form and socialistic in content*. This meant a return to the mimetic, narrative tradition, which illustrated the "correctness* of the historical process and other ideological dogmas. The vitality of this art, its optimism and simultaneous courtly character stayed within the frame of an aesthetic canon imposed by totalitarian systems. Its task was to add splendor to state ceremonies and to participate in the liturgy of the new authorities. While it is certainly a simplification, this art was a version of academic art because of similar teaching methods, although in place of the traditional humanistic values internationalistic ideas were proposed. Talent is what saved many artists from falling into vulgar imitation of Russian models, which were considered the orthodox exemplifications of this art. [121, 122]

The repertory of pictorial means and the desired features of the represented world were chosen arbitrarily. Part of the artistic community accepted the principles of the new theory with enthusiasm, perceiving the revolutionary implications which had not been implemented before the war. Characteristically, the photomontage techniques experienced a revival as seen in the works of Mieczysław Berman and Włodzimierz Zakrzewski.

The motifs which appeared in posters tended toward illustration. The conventional space of the poster was now filled with an illusionistic industrial landscape peopled by typical members of the leading social classes. Against this background, these heroes of the proletarian mythology personified their social roles, equipped with the appropriate attributes and symbols. Frequently, it is a modification of the allegorical formula that we are dealing with, ideally suited to express the intentions of the broadcast. [117, 118, 120]
A separate phenomenon was constituted by the art of Tadeusz Trepkowski. He consistently avoided figuration, turning instead toward simple symbolic relations. His monumental poetics, which drew directly from Cassandre’s work, were based on the use of metaphor and metonymy. [106]

The method was based on composing sign equivalents of ideas into monumental forms, often reduced to synthetic form and accompanied by a frequently lyrical climate. [116, 123,129]
The univocality of the message and the refined architecture of the picture employed by Trepkowski was excellently suited to the metaphors of the text. Although he tried to keep in line with the official ideology, this did not save him from charges of formalism. The naturalistic model had greater preference than even restrained modernity.

The conflict between theory and practice, twice put on public display at National Poster Exhibitions organized by the Ministry of Culture and Art (1953 and 1955), despite efforts to the contrary, forced animators and ideologues to consider the inner contradictions of this doctrine. The formal propositions made by authors to the catalogue of state art revealed excessive differences in the interpretation of the style- -forming orders. Unexpectedly, however, these propositions introduced a new artistic value, which was later to be developed, namely the technique which brought the poster closer to painting. This is particularly clear in the works of Witold Chmielewski, Lucjan Jagodziński, Włodzimierz Zakrzewski. [138]

Soon the artistic paradigma of socialist realism self-destructed and its efforts passed into a shamed oblivion. This was quite obvious at the exhibition in the Warsaw Arsenal in 1955.

Concurrently with the struggle against lifeless doctrine, the «opposition» entrenched itself in terms of artistic form and style of expression, motivated either by a spirit of contradiction or a more or less identified «aesthetic dialectics». Its program which was never stated expressis verbis as a declaration or manifesto, constituted an alternative to the official current. This condition, which is to be compared with deduction, was tolerated and indeed permitted by the official establishment. Institutionally, it appeared as the subsequent editions of a film distributing agency.

It might seem a special kind of paradox, but the authors who illustrated official propaganda fitted into this formation. This should not be treated as dualism of the artistic identity, but as a kind of unwritten contract and concession granted to artists in return for services rendered. The contract turned out to be mutually advantageous.
Meaningful support came from the echelons of artistic teaching. Two independent chairs of poster art were created at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts in 1952. One was headed by Józef Mroszczak, the other by Henryk Tomaszewski. The teaching program and the status of the two professors warranted of autonomy. A tremendous explosion of energy took place in these circles, pushing aside the prevalent rigors and verbal formulas. Stepping forward as rebels, the young artists soon witnessed their own triumph, which just happened to express an entire generation. Without the opportunities for self-fulfilment in the high arts, they managed to create for themselves an enclave of such art - or perhaps its replacement - in the field of the poster. This came at the same time that the International Festival of Youth and Students was taking place in Poland and which was already a manifestation of unbounded artistic expression.

This phenomenon reveals a continuation of certain experiments initiated already in the late forties. They moved in the direction of creating imaginary spaces, individual styles, unusual sets of metaphors. These specific interests are common to the graphic art debutantes of the early fifties’ generation: Roman Cieślewicz, Wojciech Fangor, Jan Lenica (informal theoretician of the movement), Jan Młodożeniec, Julian Pałka, Franciszek Starowieyski, Waldemar Świerży, Wojciech Zamecznik. It could be said that the transformation of poster nature was their collective accomplishment, that they opened it to the imagination, dismissed the existing principles in terms of both workshop and conception. It was a clear signal that the emancipation of the poster as an artistic work had begun, that it had shed its reference role and struck the eye with the valors of artistic form.
Thus, posters came to be perceived more as a pro jection of the individual imagination than as impersonal harbingers of specific events. This perception also gave rise to general art education, resulting in many of these works occupying a deserved spot in many an individual intimate «museum of the imagination». [130-132, 135-137].
The phenomenon did not exhibit uniformity in terms of creating style. The similarities were more in the closeness of creative attitudes, common tastes and even a readiness to compete. Not surprisingly, it was christened at the time the Polish Poster School in recognition of its uniqueness and innovation. The term was generally accepted and was used concurrently with another formation known as the Polish Film School. The phenomenon was analyzed critically in the pages of renowned periodicals, i.e. «Graphis» and «Gebrauchsgraphik», multiplying enthusiasts around the world. These appraisements established the reputation of the Polish poster for many years to come. [139,142-148]

The exceptional profusion of talents was sedulously used by the state, resulting in longterm patronage and promotion. A long series of foreign exhibitions. Testifying to this was a regularly presenting the export product of Polish art. In the twenty years between 1950 and 1970, there were more than forty presentations of this kind organized on almost all the continents.

Theoretical problems were articulated in the periodical «Projekt» (Design), which was founded in 1956. With it came factual art criticism and the first comparative analyses.
This favorable coincidence created the myth of the «golden age of the Polish poster», which is now remembered with nostalgia. The graphic artists had an instinctive understanding of the value of their accomplishments. The episode, which ended in 1961-1965, was in fact a neverending series of successes highlighted by several exceptional works. Crowning this was a series of posters for the Warsaw Opera and Dramatic Theater, designed by Roman Cieślewicz, Jan Lcnica, Jan Młodożeniec, Franciszek Starowieyski and Henryk Tomaszewski, generally considered the culmination of the Polish School. Their refined poetics, painterly form and visionary character contradicted contemporaneously used schemes. The observed passion of this art was at the other end of the spectrum of emotions which ruled the posters of the period. [160, 162, 164-170, 175]

Icons and Signs
Progressive fatigue of the imagination was to be observed with the coming of a new generation, which demonstrated reserved emotions and ascetic means of expression. The ideas of existentialism and the intellectual climate of the times were not without importance in shaping the artistic attitudes of a whole generation.
While the generation of «masters» was characterized by exuberant temperament, dynamic gesture, sensitivity to the expressive values of color, the new generation, by a natural law of contrast, exhibited a negation of these values in favor of considered, rational calculation. Instead of an indomitable affectation colored with a romantic disregard, there appeared an extracted idea, enclosed in a tight frame. The picture no longer constituted the object of aesthetic delectation for the senses, but became something of a modern icon inclining toward reflection. The arbitrariness of associations and all the non-pictorial contexts were reduced. The painterly palette was replaced by a valor scale and the maximum contrast between black and white. The screen took the place of textural roughness, dematerializing the object. The graphic substance tolerated photographic applique. [158, 171]

The poster completed a roundabout journey back to its «natural» form of a graphic work. This form was revealed in the logic of the composition and the inner formal discipline. Distancing itself from the artistic approach, which made it look like a work of painting, the «young poster» began defending the autonomy of the field with the arguments of graphic sign and visual communication. Block lettering took the place of freehand writing which had been so full of fantasy.
The experiments of Wojciech Fangor and Wojciech Zamecznik surely provided debutants with many suggestions. Their passionate penetration into the borderlands of photography and graphic designing revealed areas and creative possibilities previously unknown. This corresponded to the searchings of modem art, and often similar means of expression from similar disciplines sounded a similar note (informel, various variants of abstraction in painting). [152,155, 163]

The poster also reached these regions and it turned out that abstract art also gave results expressing certain emotions and associations connected with, for example, the illustration of modern music, as indicated by a series of posters for the Festival of Contemporary Music «Warszawska Jesien» (Warsaw Fall). The convention of synesthesy was later taken up by other artists, creating a special tradition of the posters for this particular event. [173, 190]
The discussed trends are represented by the works of Marek Freudenreich, Leszek Holdanowicz, Roslaw Szaybo, Stanislaw Zagôrski and Bronislaw Zelek.

The effects achieved by these authors constituted an equivalent of modernity at this time, strongly accentuating function as the essence of visual communication. This present «obsession» was not capable of uprooting earlier habits. The change of costume turned out to be a transitional, perhaps even necessary stage. The essence of poster emancipation remained the same: it aspired to being a work of art in its own right. Passing through successive transformations, the poster reinforced its territory, having long since stepped out of the boundaries of a strictly workshop profession.

National Poster Biennale took place in Katowice in 1965. A year later the International Poster Biennale was inaugurated at the Warsaw «Zachęta». The event was accompanied by a symposium on the subject: «The image in a city environment». A monumental exhibition retrospective «From ‘Young Poland’ to Our Day» was put up at the National Museum in Warsaw, displaying 468 posters from the Polish and foreign collections. The show constituted yet another attempt to survey the history and condition of the art in Poland. The opening of the Poster Museum at Wilanów was the outcome of all these events; the inauguration took place on June 4th, 1968.

The turn of the sixties and early seventies anticipated an era of consumption which followed in the wake of a period of so-called small stabilization. The «propaganda of success» presented visions of a «second Poland», pursuing European economic and social standards. In practice, this meant that advertisement, which constituted until then a hardly noticeable margin of the iconosphere, returned to favor. This state of affairs found justification in the eternal deficit of products. Foreign trade institutions, which were then aggressively attacking foreign markets, were mostly responsible for rejuvenating advertisement. The advertising agency Agpol was placed at their service.

Unexpectedly there appeared a phenomenon which only superficially featured characteristics of advertisement, although at the beginning it was steered by a large state company (United Entertainment Enterprises - ZPR). The circus, an old poster theme, now became the subject of a poster ad, but not as an example of plebeian entertainment. It was observed that the circus poster serves as a perpetuum mobile in refreshing the artistic imagination. Creative fantasy was quite free to use a variety of plastic tricks and pictorial jests which need not have had very much in common with circus reality. By the same, this kind of plastic variations on a given subject became in essence a virtuoso performance of invention. Most of the active graphic artists participated in this game, e.g. Wiktor Górka, Hubert Hilscher, Tadeusz Jodłowski, Jan Młodożeniec, Tomasz Rumiński, Marian Stachurski, Waldemar Świerży, Maciej Urbaniec. [183, 193, 195,203]

Playing with images
In the open, enthusiastic and affirmative atmosphere of the late sixties, reflections of the expansive pop culture and its artistic folklore began appearing. The first to make use of this style were film and cultural posters, later even political posters followed, published in large numbers on the occasion of various artful holidays, festivals and celebrations. Authors deserving mention in this context include: Andrzej Onegin Dąbrowski, Andrzej Krajewski, Jacek Neugebauer, Waldemar Świerży and Maciej Żbikowski. [177,186, 199, 227]
All this resulted in a kind of «visual cocktail», increasing the general bewilderment. By creating the impression of participation in the ionosphere of the «global village», the illusion was supported of provincial complexes having been removed. Everything appeared as a neverending carnival. The propaganda machine was totally in the hands of the Domestic Publishing Agency (KAW), heir to Artistic and Graphic Publications (WAG).

This was also a period of interesting debuts connected with a youthful current of contestation and student counterculture. The intellectual challenge to the official establishment took on the form of a grotesque game. Many of these activities demonstrated features of rebellion. The poster helped create the image of the alternative theater, cultural events, artistic exhibitions, performances and happenings. Some of the prints made for the «Stu» Theater and the Theater of the 8th Day reveal the characteristics of a cult object. [201, 204]
The informal group of «Four from Wilanów»: Jan Jaromir Aleksiun, Jerzy Czerniawski, Jan Sawka, Eugeniusz «Get» Stankiewicz, played a leading role in this movement. Their name comes from a joint exhibition at the Poster Museum at Wilanów in 1976. The show, while being something of a scandal, revealed the unusual intellectual horizons which rescued this art from charges of emptiness and banal provocation. [208, 209, 212, 214, 215, 2171 One should also mention Jerzy Krechowicz, animator of student culture on the Polish Coast and creator of interesting «graphic treatises*, as well as Robert Knuth, Rafał Olbiński, Wojciech Wołyński. [237, 247]

A common feature of their work was the grotesque, the poetics of the absurd, the style of kitsch, which combined with an anarchistic attitude set the distance to the pompous canon of official art. Strong biographical motifs, declarations and hierarchies of values, manifested through the medium, gave form to the type of individual poster which was often published in small series, at the author’s expense and with the intention of distributing it among close friends. [213]

The time was also good for the poster as a commercial product. Ars Polona had it in its offer and suggested it to foreign clients as an attractive souvenir from Poland. Professional galleries appeared, boasting a large selection of posters; collectors clubs were founded to organize exchanges and various occasional celebrations.
Independently of the ferment incited by the young rebels, the structuralist tendency was maintained, referring to methods of subject analysis in the categories of graphism and lettering as semantic forms. This trend, which went against the grain of the Polish Poster School and renounced its formal eloquence, invisibly strengthened its positions by concentrating on the elementary sign. Interesting results in this field were achieved by Bogusław Balicki, Stanisław Łabędzki, Lech Majewski, Tadeusz Piskorski, Paweł Udorowiecki, Mieczysław Wasilewski and others. [200, 211]
The late seventies marked the slow agony of the political poster. The system was bankrupt even to the naked eye. With it came a growing erosion of its triumphant iconography. It failed to excite social response and was treated with disregard by the artists themselves. Its impersonal, ornamental and decorative models became anachronic in the face of the emotional and entrancing vision proposed by the cultural poster.

Ut pictura poësis
The eighties witnessed a dramatic decomposition of the political system. A serious derangement of the system of visual communication accompanied it, featuring competing political texts. The emotional scale covered a wide range from euphoria and optimism because of the cracking power monopoly to the tragedy and painful experiences of martial law. With the appearance of political struggle, an underground, so called second circulation system appeared. The conflict with the official line of propaganda led to a battle of signs and symbols which spontaneously gave shape to the iconosphere of the period.

Unique usually anonymous prints were made in simple technologies. They created the climate of the street, the church pew, the private flat. Artists generally flew in the face of their recent patrons and actively supported the opposition. Despite the general signs of collapse and crisis, the community escaped antagonization and was never effectively divided. Most authors found refuge in their «ivory towers» and awaited final resolution.
From the mid-eighties private publishing initiatives, mushroomed, having been taken over by poster connoisseurs. In view of the economic catastrophe of institutions which until then had supported the artistic poster, these private individuals now ordered designs directly from artists and then made part of the edition available for the purposes of promotion. The remaining copies became collector’s items. This simple mechanism eliminated the production of titles that were banal or accidental.

The tradition of the Polish School was revived with sentiment, especially since most authors still declare a genetic link with its heritage. In creative practice, this connection has always been expressed in the emotional approach to particular works which should display the individuality of the artists and serve informative ends to the same degree.

This approach testifies to the poster being treated as an autonomous form of individual expression. Its creationary value, sometimes bordering on the visionary, is still considered equal to the artistic value. The predilection to interiorization and to penetration of the realm of one’s own imagination often results in the work appearing as a «phantom« which draws on intimate experience. The poster itself becomes a kind of epiphany, satisfying our inherent curiosity about the image: it pictures that which is unreal and unimaginable. As a result, the modern Polish poster represents a large variety of individual styles which do not create a uniform representation with similar formal features. Should we try to find a continuation of the Polish School in this phenomenon, it would be more proper to speak of the school’s ‘constitution’ which guaranteed the right to individual expression.

A classic example of this is the perfectionist art of Franciszek Starowieyski. His phantasmagorias, inspired at times by the aesthetics of the Baroque, and an indomitable metaphysical passion have apparently freed his work from any rational interpretation. Yet, combined with anecdote and the author’s erudite exegesis, these posters often touch upon archetypical meanings. [157,176, 196, 205, 245, 259, 267, 3411 The unbounded ingenuity of Waldemar Świerzy, heir to the painterly traditions of the Polish poster, always allows him to jump from one convention into another, while retaining a distinct stamp. He remains the matchless champion of the imaginative portrait which surprises not so much with the physical likeness as with the author’s comment expressed in the spontaneous gesture, the unerring color spot and unusual picture intuition. [192, 197, 210, 261, 307, 308]
The unquestioned position of Henryk Tomaszewski always found confirmation in the intellectual content of his works. The author’s invention seems to be irrepresible and the style of artistic expression does not attach any meaning to criteria of workshop correctness. He was always more interested in the «syntax» which expressed a subjective attitude toward the theme. Thus, there is no lack of mockery and irony in his approach. He searches for paradoxes and ruins common conceptions. His ambition has always been the building of a universal system of signs that would be commonly understood. [154, 188, 202,255,262,277,292,311,327, 336]
Roman Cieślewicz consistently treated the poster in the categories of sacrum, never abandoning a deep belief in the mission of the art and its capabilities of intervention. It would not be stretching one’s credibility to classify his art as a specific kind of «fundamental graphic art», especially in the field of graphic designing. He never avoided the challenge vitally important themes, creating of monumental works in effect. Undertaking a dialogue with the tradition of the past era, he what are produced a long series of imaginative photomontages. [182, 229, 249]
Jan Lenica «gave the poster wings», raising it to the status of visual poetry. The cadences of color, the pulsing rhythm of the contour - these are musical valors which have given his designs an unmatched dimension, additionally enhanced by the intellectual message. These features assure them a timeless quality. [241,324]

With unyielding passion, Jan Młodożeniec devotes himself to a study of the secrets of painterly form. Using a sublime scale of expression, in which color is the most important value, he creates intimate plastic epigrams not without selfirony and wit. His art is unusually consistent, although at first glance it calls to mind the naive art forms. [223, 238, 243, 255, 296, 345]
The individualities of masters of the Polish School create exceptional constellations of stars. Their accomplishments, although so different on the surface, sound a pathetic accord unheard of elsewhere. Their art has freed in their successors a belief in the need to undertake the pictorial tradition, which is a distinctive feature inseparably connected with the Polish poster.

The same motivations, painterly workshop and inseparable emotional factor is to be found in the works of the «new wave». A specific poetics is evoked by the works of Jerzy Czerniawski. His art is in essence a deep reflection on the existential condition of mankind. It is a world of imperturble lasting, freed from temporalness, not avoiding brutal metaphors and tragic experiences. [222,232, 240].

A similar climate is to be found in the works of Wiktor Sadowski. It most probably draws from the world of the theater. Perhaps it is the theater of a world, where marionette figures play out secret mysteries before our very eyes? [257, 274, 275, 286, 287, 288, 299, 331,340]
Wiesław Wałkuski’s vision generates strong reactions, never leaving one indifferent. It is a convulsive, fearsome realm, a kind of modern bestiary. Its nature is clearly traumatic, especially since it receives an unusually sensual form. [319, 337, 350]

A nostalgia for childhood and defenceless innocence permeats the work of Stasys Eidrigevicius. The naive honesty of his art plunges some in thought and others into depression. It is a very intimate world where everyone can find perhaps his own first experiences and final destiny. [272,278,314, 333]

Phantoms ghostly figures, all kinds of apparitions and superstitions are frequent motifs explored by the poster artist with a passion deserving of admiration. Animated performances with these apparitions fill the stage, in direct flatness contradiction to the posters.
Some commentators of the modern Polish poster call this aesthetic paradigm «surrealistic lyrism» (Martin Krampen) or teratology (Raymond Vezina).

The motif of the human face concealed behind a mask is in archetypical continuum which fascinates authors; it is hardly possible that this fascination will decline, especially since it continues to receive new interpretations.
An unusual theatrum mundi is represented by the designs of Jan Jaromir Aleksiun, Tomasz Bogusławski, Mieczysław Górowski, Grzegorz Marszałek, Marian Nowiński, Rafał Olbiński, Andrzej Pągowski, Wiesław Rosocha, Leszek Żebrowski. [250, 256, 268, 284, 294]
Perhaps then the narcissistic pose of Eugeniusz «Get» Stankiewicz should be considered as self-irony and a spirit of contradiction. Stankiewicz identifies himself with the physiognomy of each and every potential protagonist and equips him with his own countenance. [258, 289, 290]

The panorama of the modern Polish poster includes more than just the pictorial trend. Beside it, there is also the orientation drawing from the experiments of the structuralism who declare themselves in favor of the images graphic interpretation.

This orientation includes both simple graphic structures and the use of photographic substance. It would be difficult to speak of a rivalry between these two separate attitudes or of their mutual exclusion. It is possible to observe interesting phenomena on the borders of these trends, where the spheres of influence are superimposed. This is particularly true in the case of staged photography, transformation of the photographic image, intended symbolic permutation using elements of the real world.
Exemplifying this orientation are the realizations of Jacek Ćwikła, Maciej Buszewicz, Marek and Wojciech Freudenreich, Andrzej Klimowski, Piotr Kunce, Marcin Mroszczak, Tadeusz Piechura, Władysław Pluta, Rosław Szaybo. [236, 239, 266, 376. 283. 323. 328]

Each of these authors prefers different methods and has different results. The proportion of means of expression is also different, ranging from pure, studio photography to photographic collage and color retouching.
Respect for the classic workshop of the graphic artist should go along with the ability to use the graphic punch line skillfully. Many authors consistently reveal such an understanding of the poster, emphasizing its signal nature. The artistic approach of Leszek Drewiński, Leszek Holdanowicz and Mieczysław Wasilewski invariably retains this characteristic. [271, 279]

This kind of synthetic approach to form can also be observed in the art of Dariusz Bylinka, Jakub Erol, Dariusz Komorek, Cyprian Kościelniak, Lech Majewski, Krzysztof Tyczkowski, Tomasz Szulecki, although the artistic element continues to play a significant role in their works. [254, 260, 280, 282, 291, 300, 305, 313,316]
Bold experimentation with the conventional poster formula is demonstrated by Tadeusz Piechura. His "graphic installation”, as they are sometimes called, form series or variants annihilating existing habits. [346]

No appearance worth recording has yet announced the generational change of guard. The presence of young artists is confirmed by artistic facts . Individualities appear from time to time; they introduce new values and propose a new language. The interest in graphism as the criterium of form is symptomatic, there is a certain aesthetic rusticality which sometimes even borders on the ugly. The following artists deserve mention: Sławomir Kosmynka, Piotr Młodożeniec, Marian Oslislo, Sławomir Witkowski. [270,317,325]
Roman Kalarus is undoubtedly the most distinct personality. He tells an idyllic tale in psychedelic colors, moving freely in the expanse of the imagination where nothing is impossible. He permeates his realm with erotism, giving it a cosmic dimension. The beauty of this world, however, is not just in the hedonistic debauchment, but also in a manifestation of indomitable energy and artistic freedom. [304, 322]

The bystander frequently finds it difficult to understand the phenomenon of the Polish poster. More often than not, it was formed under specific historical circumstances, during which artistic creativity was treated somewhat instrumentally to achieve current political ends. But in contrast to other fields of art, the poster yields to the troubled rhythms of History. It is active in helping to create it; it takes over the initiative and influences the course of events, it distances itself from happenings, but it also sometimes falls victim to manipulation.

The history of Poland illustrated in posters brings a summaric knowledge of our aesthetic likings and political temperament. In the end, it presents the decorum of daily life. It reflects the awareness of the nation and its mentality, the attitude towards national tradition as well as to the common cultural heritage of mankind.

All these interdependencies are confirmed and more or less convincingly reflected in the Polish poster. The story of the Polish poster also confirms a certain principle: Despite never welcomed involvement, the poster was always treated as a work of artistic creativity and an expression of the author’s individuality. Its artistic intentions were never tamed and have come to be considered as its privilege. This autonomy, which the poster has managed to preserve, has given the art its freedom and has imbued particular works with authenticity.

Mariusz Knorowski