The Power of Polish Posters: Franciszek Starowieyski

by Natalia Dydo
Kraków, September 2018

What decorates the walls in your apartment? My walls are full of posters, projects, photos and linocuts. Of course, I change the arrangement from time to time depending on my mood and what just came into my hands. Why do I mention this? Well, because of the memories that are coming back just right now due to the new exhibition Eroticism in Polish posters. Head to toe at the Dydo Poster Gallery.

The exhibition features 50 posters from the Dydo Poster Collection and focuses on the theme of eroticism in film, theatre, music and exhibition posters, as well as those promoting tourism in Poland. The exhibition was prepared on the occasion of the premiere of the latest book by Steven Heller and Mirko Ilić, Head to toe. The nude in graphic design. It contains over 600 examples from all over the world including around 100 Polish posters and all the posters at the exhibition.

The selection of the works was hard, but among the authors of posters there are over 20 Polish artists: Ewa Bajek Wein, Michał Batory, Lex Drewiński, Mieczysław Górowski, Joanna Górska and Jerzy Skakun, Adam Hoffman, Ryszard Kaja, Roman Kalarus, Sławomir Kosmynka, Piotr Kunce, Jan Lenica, Lech Majewski, Grzegorz Marszałek, Rafał Olbiński, Andrzej Pągowski, Kaja Renkas, Monika Starowicz, Wiesław Wałkuski, Mieczysław Wasilewski, Leszek Żebrowski, and Franciszek Starowieyski, on whom I will focus today.

Franciszek Starowieyski is one of my favourite poster designers. He was born in 1930 in Bratkówka near Krosno, died on 23 February 2009 in Warsaw. He studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow in the studio of Wojciech Weiss and Adam Marczyński (1949-52) and then at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in the studio of Michał Bylina, where he graduated in 1955.

Graphic artist, painter and set designer, author of numerous theatre and film posters, collector, baroque lover and erudite. He was one of the most expressive figures of Polish contemporary art and at the same time an artist who didn’t belong to any artistic group. He was the originator of the unique Theatre of Drawing productions, during which large-format compositions were created in front of the audience.

He developed his own surrealistic and grotesque language of artistic expression, characterized by a baroque exuberance of forms, rich symbolism, unusual momentum and sensuality. His works speak about men’s secret aspirations, secret dreams and an escape to eternity.

Lulu is a poster that I hung in my flat for a long time during my studies. The poster was designed for the production of Alban Berg’s opera in Bonn, Germany in 1980. As described on MOMA’s page:

The succession of murders, sexual encounters, and depravity in Alban Berg’s opera Lulu appealed to Starowieyski’s dark, fantastical imagination. The hybrid figure with a bird’s head and wings and a naked female torso is simultaneously erotic and macabre. Starowieyski designed this German poster while lecturing at the Hochschule für bildende Künste (College of Fine Arts) in Berlin. Later he divided his time between ateliers in Warsaw and Paris, and in 1985 he was the first Polish artist to have a solo exhibition at MoMA.

Other theatre posters which you can see at the exhibition are: As You Like It (Jak wam się podoba, 1976) for a play by William Shakespeare, Three Tall Women (Trzy wysokie kobiety, 1996) for a play by Edward Albee, According to Thomas Mann (Według Tomasza Manna, 1979) for Teatr Polski in Wrocław. Another work From the Life of Rain snakes (Z życia dżdżownic, 1983) for a play by Per Olov Enquist is about a meeting between Heibergs (Danish nineteenth-century writer Johan Ludvig Heiberg and his wife, the famous actress Johanne Luise Heiberg) and Hans Christian Andersen.

The other part of Starowieyski posters is film posters. Nightmares (Zmory, 1979) directed by Wojciech Marczewski. This is a story about a young boy, who grows up in pre-World War I in Poland, to become a rebellious teen and joins the national movement for liberation. The Knight (Rycerz, 1980) directed by Lech Majewski is about a knight in the Middle Ages, who quests to find a golden harp. Wherever You Are (Gdzieśkolwiek jest, jeśliś jest, 1988) Polish-German psychological film from 1988 directed by Krzysztof Zanussi, telling the story of Nina dreaming of sanctity and suffering from mental illness.

Until October 14, 2018, you’ll have the chance to explore ‘Eroticism in Polish Posters‘ in Krakow. Afterwards, the exhibition will travel to Croatia from the 3rd to the 16th of December, 2018 at the Galerija C8 in Pula during the 24th Book Fair(y) in Istria.

Come and see!

Eroticism in Polish posters. Head to toe.
September 20 – October 14, 2018
Dydo Poster Gallery
Kraków, Al. Focha 1 (former Cracovia Hotel)

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