Tag Archives: street art

Paris, Bristol, Warsaw: Street art and the art of the cinema poster (Polskim stylu)

I took these pictures a while back, but I lost them on my pootie and only just found them again. They’re of some paint-ups by Paris (I think), one over the old Target Electronics shop on Cherry Lane near St James’ Barton, the other on the back gate of the Full Moon/Eclipse (AKA Attic) over the other side of Stokes Croft/North Street.

Whilst the second one clearly features Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet, for me both bring to mind the marvellous creativity of Polish film posters.

If you don’t know what I’m on about, have a read through this fascinating article on the subject from Smashing Magazine. It’s long, detailed, and thoroughly illustrated, so it may take a while to load.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Fifties and the early Sixties mark the Golden Age of the Polish poster. Like everything else, the film industry was controlled by the state. There were two main institutions responsible for commissioning poster designs: Film Polski (Polish Film) and Centrala Wynajmu Filmow – CWF (Movie Rentals Central). They commissioned not graphic designers but artists and as such each one of them brought an individual voice to the designs.

The School of the Polish Poster is therefore not unified but rather diverse in terms of style. It wasn’t until the Mid-Fifities, though, that the school flourished. The fierce Stalinist rule had been lifted, once again leaving room for artistic expression. The classic works were created in the next ten years. Three important remarks must be made. First, at the time the poster was basically the only allowed form of individual artistic expression.

Second, the state wasn’t concerned much with how the posters looked. Third, the fact that the industry was state-controlled turned out to be a blessing in disguise: working outside the commercial constraints of a capitalist economy, the artists could fully express their potential. They had no other choice but to become professional poster designers and that’s why they devoted themselves so thoroughly to this art.

The Polish film poster is artist-driven, not studio-driven. It is more akin to fine art than commercial art. It is painterly rather than graphic. What sets the Polish poster apart from what we’re used to see in the West is a general disregard for the demands of the big studios. The artists requested and received complete artistic freedom and created powerful imagery inspired by the movies without actually showing them: no star headshots, no movie stills, no necessary direct connection to the title.

They are in this regard similar to the work of Saul Bass, a rare example of a Hollywood artist who enjoyed total freedom from the studios. Next to a typical Hollywood film poster with the giant headshots of the latest movie star and the title set in, you guessed it, Trajan Pro, the Polish film poster still looks fresh and inspiring today.

I think my interest in this sort of stuff was first piqued on a visit to Central Europe in the early 1990s. Then I had picked up a few local comics, and was thrilled to discover that, impenetrable language aside, they used exactly the same design grammar that any child who grew up with British comics was familiar with; yet at the same time, the draughtsmanship was almost completely alien to someone raised on DC Thomson and IPC fare – sloppy curves, weird spot colour, disdain for straight lines intermixed with bizarrely angular scratchiness… And I noticed this type of design extended beyond the pages of children’s comics – it was on walls, posters, street corners, even on chocolate bar wrappers (Ama, I seem to remember, was a particularly good example of this odd new visual language).

Through the years I started to gradually pick up more and more of this sort of stuff – completely un-British, un-’Western’, and yet at the same time thoroughly British and thoroughly ‘Western’ (it’s just difficult sometimes to recognise that your own foundations have been built into the earthworks created by someone else…) Public information signage and propaganda posters and commercial art (qv Mucha) were the areas where I found it easiest to see the parallels, the common ground; but it was in the Soviet-era Polish posters for Western movies I found the most pleasing pictures, slick airbrush art discarded in favour of strong, stylised designs focusing on concepts. I mean, if they can make crappy Whoopi Goldberg vehicle Fatal Beauty look worth a watch, anything’s possible…

These days it seems I’m not the only one with a fondness for Polish posters – there are whole websites devoted to them, and articles in UK newspapers like The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph on them too.

My favourite? Michal Ksiazek’s take on Blade Runner, known in Poland as Łowca Androidów (AKA Robot Hunter).