Dysmorphic, fiercely creative, and oftentimes horror-inspiring. For over 70 years, the art of the Polish School of Posters has been a quiet gem of creativity flying in the face of commercial film artwork.
Polish poster art was a child born in captivity. The communist regime held a vice-like grip on culture behind the iron curtain until 1989 and their rejection of Western arts strangled artists' access to American and European films. So, in a bizarre twist of fortune, when students of the Polish School Of Posters, founded in 1947, took up the task of reimagining Western film's artwork, they often did so without ever having seen the films themselves.
Undeterred, the isolated artists used the film’s titles, snippets of plot, and perhaps a glimpse of the original poster to fire their riotous imaginations.
They were also freed not only from information and artistic precedent, but from the primary function of a film poster: selling cinema tickets. Instead, the School reimagined the concept of film artwork not as a promotional vehicle, but simply as standalone artwork in its own right.
Below are five of our favourite posters, created between 1963 and 1989.
Above: From left to right - Strangers On A Train (Witold Janowski, 1963), The Godfather (Jan Młodożeniec, 1970s), Return Of The Pink Panther (Edward Lutczyn, 1977), Some Like It Hot (Wiesław Wałkuski, 1987), Someone To Watch Over Me (Andrzej Pągowski, 1989)
When communism finally fell in 1989, the School's in-house culture was so entrenched that the freer access to information did nothing to dampen the artists' thirst for the surreal and the outlandish. Instead, their creativity and disregard for convention simply took this new information and used it to plough on to ever greater heights.
Now, some 30 years after the end of the censorship that first bred the style in the '40s, the tradition still lives on. Every year, while we are bombarded with mainstream film publicity campaigns, a group of slightly fanatical artists in Poland quietly release their own interpretations: Some of the most distinctive pop-culture artwork you will ever find.
Below is a selection of posters created since 1989. Ranging from the bold and sparse interpretations of Joanna Gorska and Jerzy Skakun, to the murky darkness of Leszek Żebrowski.
Above: From left to right - Casablanca (Joanna Gorska & Jerzy Skakun, 2009), Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (Joanna Gorska & Jerzy Skakun, 2010), Breakfast At Tiffany's (Michał Książek, 2015), Blade Runner (Michał Książek, 2003), Raging Bull (Leszek Żebrowski, 2010), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Marta Szmyd, 2016), Pulp Fiction (Andrzej Krajewski, 2011), Reservoir Dogs (Andrzej Krajewski, 2007), The Shining (Leszek Żebrowski, 2007), Eyes Wide Shut (Leszek Żebrowski, 2007) Weekend at Bernie's (Jakob Erol, 1990)
What you see here is just the tip of this kaleidoscopic iceberg. If you're keen to delve deeper into the world of Polish film poster art, there is no better place to start than www.polishposter.com. But beware, all their posters are for sale. So, leave your credit card out of reach, or you, like us, might easily be tempted to buy out the entire store.