(Part one of two) Part Two
[singlepic id=15 w=400 h=340 float=left]You’ve got to wonder: Did dour, humorless Soviet autocrats – or even their lockstep lackeys in Warsaw – really expect Marxism to blossom in captive Poland?
One need only visit PolishPoster.com (www.polishposter.com) for a small but wonderful window into the Polish mind – or at least that of Polish artists – to see that Poles are way too imaginative, sharp-witted, subtle, sarcastic and fun-loving to be the unthinking, uncomplaining communist slaves the Kremlin was hoping for.
I started getting a sense of the art of the Polish poster from the occasional examples that would turn up in Heritage Auctions’ (www.ha.com) weekly and signature movie poster auctions – as well as by searching for the posters of specific Hollywood films, only to find foreign takes on those classic American images. What a surprise! Artistically, these were not cheesy, amateurish knockoffs: Instead, not only was the artwork often superior to what the Hollywood film studios’ lockstep lackeys in L.A. or New York were doing, it was downright “edgy.”
Granted, it’s a lot easier to be witty when you’re satirizing a well-known image than when you’re creating a wholly original one. Turns out, the Poles are damn good at the latter as well.
Check out some of wild work on PolishPoster.com to get a glimmer of what I mean. There are some amazing circus, museum exhibition, opera and other event posters, notably Satyrykon, which started out in 1977 as an annual exhibition by cartoonists in Wrocław, Poland. According to the event Web site, www.satyrykon.pl, it is now a highly regarded international arts competition open to engravers, photographers, sculptors and, yes, poster artists.
Since I am a devotee of film, I gravitate to movie posters, and here’s where I found some eye-openers …
For example, the poster for sequel to Steven Spielberg’s take on “Moby-Dick”: the ever-popular summer beach flick “Jaws.” I never liked the poster of the monster shark torpedoing upward at the tiny, unsuspecting, crawl-stroking female swimmer. Now look at artist Edward Lutczyn’s great 1980 riff on the original “Jaws” poster in his “Jaws 2” promo artwork (priced at $197, and there’s a waiting list for it): a shark with two tooth-studded pairs of choppers – fantastic (in the otherworldly sense), bizarre and a hell of a lot more sinister. Like the shark in the film, come to think of it.
[singlepic id=8 w=400 h=320 float=left]Or check out the 1983 “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” poster by Waldemar Swierzy ($166). Recall that “Butch Cassidy” was one of the great American rebel/buddy/adventure films of the 1960s – the polar opposite of what the Eastern Bloc stood for. Swierzy and other Polish artists do the same take: romanticized, often blood-spattered images of the doomed yet lovable, good-looking, idealized Western outlaws.
And the Communist party apparatchiks didn’t censor that? Were the bureaucrats too dumb to “get” the fact that the “Butch Cassidy” poster – not to mention the film – was all about bucking the system or die trying? Or did they appreciate this but, deep down, were liberal enough not to care?
In the second part to this story, I ask some Krzysztof Marcinkiewicz of PolishPosters.com some questions about the posters, the artists and the Polish artistic temperament. The posters, I note, often fetch pretty high prices on these shores, although Krzysztof’s posters go for under $20 to the hundreds, depending on their rarity, of course. The film posters are for productions both famous and obscure, from a range of countries; many are for revivals of older films, and most seem to run in the $35 to $55 range. (The above-mentioned “Butch Cassidy” posters are about $183 apiece, as they’re older and harder to get.) I have purchased two: a beautiful Picasso-esque limited-edition poster for Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” by Leszek Zebrowski from 2007 (now priced at $31) and a 1987 poster by Andrzej Pagowski for Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” ($66.) Note that the production quality will vary: The “Clockwork Orange” poster is very finely printed in knockout colors on good paper; by contrast, the “Seven Samurai” poster is more like a photocopy on cheaper paper. As Krzysztof explained, “99.99 percent of Polish movie posters printed before 1990 were on non-glossy paper, usually thin (like ‘The Seven Samurai’) but sometimes also heavier but with noticeable cellulose fibers visible; the surface of this paper was not so smooth like on ‘The Seven Samurai,’ it was different and you can feel the surface under your fingers.
“The funny thing is that this poor-quality paper looks very nice today, as its surface looks like and ‘art’ paper. It is especially nice on old 1950s-to-1970s posters.”
Read my interview with Krzysztof soon on AmeriCollector.com. Collectors, home decorators (always wanted a circus poster for the kids’ playroom or an opera poster for the office?) and holiday gift givers are bound to find really great, affordable stuff on PolishPosters.com. My posters arrived in short order and were meticulously packed in a tube.
More great posters
All poster images courtesy of PolishPoster.com.