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Polish poster exhibition at Zion Arts Centre

Katie Franklin finds an eclectic and engaging collection in Hulme

Written by . Published on June 13th 2011.

Polish poster exhibition at Zion Arts Centre

SHORT film creative champions Kinofilm are exhibiting the artistic diversity of Polish poster art from the nation’s cinematic golden age of the 1950s-1980s.

John Wojowski, curating the exhibition, boasts an impressive collection of Polish film posters – he has more than 100 to date. He travelled to Poland in the 1980s to try and find his father and bought one poster.

He decided to expand and began collecting again five years ago; since then his catalogue has spiralled into a weird and wonderful batch of arresting artwork.

The posters from the 1980s are more overtly political. One artist from this decade, Stasy Eidrigevicius, comes across as Banksy-esque, with one poster displaying a large gun shooting out a flower instead of a bullet.

Upon entering the gallery, you are bombarded with peculiar images: an aeroplane with its nose as a mouth; creepy clowns and a brutal poster painted in red showing a man’s hideously assaulted face.

The film promos cover a period which saw them range from the anti-war, political propaganda driven by Soviet influences, to the cool simplicity of 1960s graphics. During this time, the Warsaw Academy of Fine Art introduced the Polish Poster School, which gives an indication as to how valued the posters were to many people.

As the Cold War ebbed, surrealism and pop art became fashionable, and this is seen clearly in the exhibition – the posters are notably different from one end of the gallery to the other, tracing the progression of artistic styles and trends. The posters from the 1970s have a definite disco feel and are markedly different from the artwork on display from the 1950s, largely because of its funky and hippy tone.

In 1990, as the state monopoly ended, there was a change in the production and function of the posters. Polish movie studios were taken over by Hollywood giants Warner and Paramount, and Polish poster art died.

Alongside the collection of bizarre (one poster depicts a body with a sunken head wearing a swastika), the exhibition is also screening a documentary on the context of the posters alongside it.

What these posters are trying to do (successfully, in my opinion) is capture the essence of film as a visual metaphor, rather than just mere representation, as Hollywood aspires to do. So, in Jan Lenica’s ‘Wozzeck’ (1964), which advertises opera, the image is a mouth centrally placed inside the outline of a head, to show this is where the focus should be.

Polish2One poster that caught my eye was ‘True Friends’ (1954) by Eryk Lipinski, which depicts a jovial man lolling topless on a beach. The block colours and complacent tone mark this poster as different from others nearby that convey obscure and menacing undertones.

“The most difficult ones to trace are the older ones, mainly because of their age,” says Wojowski. “They fetch quite a lot more than the later posters.”

The exhibition features several posters from the same artist. Maria Ihnatowicz features five times in the gallery, including a poster of Italian film ‘Death in Venice’ (1973). Her obsession with using pink is clear in all five posters, so you really get a feel for her work.

The posters from the 1980s are more overtly political. One artist from this decade, Stasy Eidrigevicius, comes across as Banksy-esque, with one poster displaying a large gun shooting out a flower instead of a bullet.

Wojowski’s favourite artist is Andrzej Klimowski, whose work includes poster adaptations of Jim Jarmusch’s, ‘Stranger than Paradise’, and he’s keen to get more of Klimoski’s adaptations of Jarmusch films.

The exhibition is steeped in personal interest and Wojowski’s enthusiasm – he led me round the gallery reeling artists’ names off the top of his head. “You can clearly see that the communist reign just did not want any Western influences,” he says as he speeds off to another side of the gallery. “The Polish posters are completely different from the ones seen in England for the same film.”

This exhibition puts the art back into film, before Hollywood took over and sterilised the industry. You can see the Polish film art at the Zion Arts Centre, Hulme until 22 June. 

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