10 Posters from Poland's Golden Age of Graphic Design

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By Diana Budds / Published by Dwell
On his expertly curated site eyseaposters.com, James Dyer has amassed an impressive array of Polish film and political posters by the likes of Wiktor Gorka, Waldemar Swierzy, Andrzej Krajewski, Franciszek Starowieyski, and Jerzy Flisak. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the Polish School of Posters employed sophisticated graphics, strong typography, an often painterly aesthetic, and metaphor to create printed matter. Though regulated by the government, the posters remain some of the strongest examples of visual communication. Dyer lets us in on how his obsession turned into a thriving webshop.

What drew you to Polish posters?

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"This is what got me into collecting Polish posters," says James Dyer, the proprietor of eyeseaposters.com, a webshop with an impressive array of Polish film posters for sale." I like the perspective and bold colors used Maciej Zbikowski, one of my favorite poster artists, used."

I got hooked when someone sent me a postcard with a Polish film poster on it. It was the Seksolatki poster by Maciej Zbikowski. It took me a long time to find a decent copy but now it's hanging on my wall and remains one of my favorites.

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"A dark theatre poster by Franciszek Starowieyski, an artist from The Polish School of Poster Art, is another favorite," Dyer says. "I'm a sucker for anything featuring an eye or two."

What made you start collecting posters?

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"Andrzej Krajewski's poster for Midway has a nice composition in his signature Art Deco style," Dyer says. "He's one of the few remaining Polish poster masters and still an active artist."

I used to run a record label and sometimes we would reference Polish posters for inspiration when working on sleeve designs. I've been collecting records for years and started collecting posters around five years ago. I sold a few here and there to help fund the collection and the website grew out of that.
 
What does a "good" poster embody in terms of graphics, color, typography, and messaging?

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22 Lipca, original Polish poster by Janowski c. 1973

The right combination of graphics, typography, and color is important, but as we're bombarded with so much advertising it also needs to be concise, bold, and intriguing to really catch my eye.
 
Polish film posters produced in the communist era are unique because state-controlled film institutions commissioned revered national artists to create alternative posters to foreign counterparts deemed inappropriate to use as advertising. The inclusion of photos and sometimes even credits wasn't mandatory and the artists often chose a single image to represent the essence of the film. In many cases the posters had little visual reference to the film itself, resulting in some off-the-wall imagery. They're sometimes surreal and often have a satirical sense of humor.  

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Gang Olsena Na Szlaku (The Olsen Gang), original Polish film poster by Jerzy Flisak c. 1976

It's a shame film posters today have become so predictable. They're usually focused on photos of the film stars. I'd be more intrigued and more likely to see a film if its poster featured a man with a psychedelic butterfly head rather than a photo of Tom Cruise.

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Wyspa Zloczyncow, original Polish film poster by Maciej Hibner c. 1965

Where do you typically find the posters in your shop?

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Smierc W Wenecji (Death in Venice), original Polish film poster by Maria Ihnatowicz c. 1971

My collection really grew when a friend of mine moved to Poland. He helps me source stuff there. We hunt high and low in old cinemas, theaters, museums, etc. We found some in a shopping center and from a guy who had thousands stashed in his garage. As the posters' popularity grows and they become more sought after, they become increasingly hard to find, and even harder to find in good condition so sometimes I'm reluctant to let them go.

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VII Ogolnopolski I Ivmiedzynarodowy Festiwal Filmow, original Polish poster by Waldemar Swierzy c. 1967

Do you have plans for a brick-and-mortar presence?

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Gracz (The Player), original Polish film poster by Jerzy Flisak c. 1973

We're only online but we're planning some more exhibitions and a pop-up store in London. To fully appreciate them you need to see them in the flesh: the quality of the printing, the paper stock, and the natural aging process also makes them distinct.

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Plyty Gramofonowe Tonpress, original Polish poster by Lech Majewski c. 1978