1 - Australian Listing 1906-1971 | 2 - Australian Printers & Dealers | 3 - Polish Posters of Australian Films
4 - Personal Collection - Polish Posters | 5 - Ned Kelly Polski | 6 - Personal Collection - Australian Posters
7 - Personal Collection - Film Posters | 8 - Zuzanna Lipinska Polish Posters




Wiktor Sadowski: Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1992.

The Polish movie poster has, since 1947, been distinguished by a unique painterly style - individualistic, unconventional, sarcastic, ambiguous, lyrical, expressionistic and veering towards the Surreal under the influence of Salvador Dali and Joan Miro: 'Combat on Paper' as a 1996 American exhibition termed them. [1] In a nation where simple objects historically acquire symbolic meanings, the poster has become a powerful symbol of national identity.

Australian films feature in a small collection of these extraordinary works of public ephemeral art. From 1948 through to the late eighties movies starring Peter Finch, Chips Rafferty, Helen Morse, Paul Hogan and Mel Gibson have generated Polish posters. Yet the difference between these Eastern European works on paper and the Australian or Hollywood equivalent is generally stark. The latter are predominantly formulaic and conventional, featuring head shots of stars, photographic stills, and large, flat type-based lettering. Of course there are exceptions to this artistic banality, with American Saul Bass a good example of a modern graphic design artist successfully engaging with Hollywood. Bass's posters for productions such as Frank Sinatra's The Man with the Golden Arm 1955 and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo 1958 were sparse, modern and abstract. Unfortunately, with big Hollywood studios loathe to hand control of poster design over to individual artists, the Saul Bass experience is exceptional, rather than the rule. [2] Nevertheless, posters coming out of Russia and western European countries such as France, Italy, Germany, Hungary and Sweden in the post-Word War I years have consistently adopted a more painterly approach than their American or Australian equivalents, whilst still adhering to the conventions of layout.

American, British and Australian movie posters have changed little in composition and typography since the introduction of talkies at the end of the 1920s. The design elements are set in stone, though production and printing technologies continue to evolve. The Australian film poster remains derivative and increasingly digital. In most instances it is a copy of the American or overseas studio equivalent, featuring images from the film, appropriately enhanced and overlain with expressive, though printer-based lettering. There are some similarities between the Polish and Australian movie poster, but only in relation to production and size. Both made use of lithography from the time of the introduction of film in the 1890s. Photo-offset printing became the norm during the 1950s, though Australia persisted with lithography through to the late 1970s. Whilst the lithographic palette was often limited to just two or three basic colours, the resultant image was warmer, subtler in tone and more painterly than the photo-litho print. Movie poster size was also relatively standard, with the Australian 1-sheet poster 27 inches by 40 inches, and its Polish equivalent 27 x 39 inches. A smaller 23 x 33 inches size was common in Poland during the immediate post-war years when paper was scarce. However the similarities end there.

Eryk Lipinski:
Bush Christmas, 1948.
Eryk Lipinski:
Storm Boy, 1978.
Mieslaw Walkuski:
Crocodile Dundee II, 1989.

For evidence of difference we need only look to the children's book illustration design for the 1948 Polish poster of Bush Christmas, and beyond that to the surrealism of the Caddie and Storm Boy posters released in 1978, or to the simplicity of colour and line in Crocodile Dundee II from 1989. All buck the trend of the movie poster as we know it in Australia, where photographic images dominate. In comparison, the Polish posters are often cryptic, and demanding of consideration and reflection. Seeking to generate an emotional response, they move beyond a mere presentation of information about star, title, content and production to something deeper. The Polish film poster is artist, not studio driven. It is artistic rather than graphic; painterly as opposed to commercially constrained; radical rather then conservative.

The origins of such a distinct artistic movement lay in Poland's unique political, social and economic circumstances following World War II. The more conventional, though still graphically adventurous pre-war poster tradition was literally blown away by the devastating events of the Nazi occupation in 1939 and subsequent Communist takeover during 1944. In a post-war environment of social turmoil, physical destruction and totalitarian rule, a system evolved of state run film production and release. Whilst repressive in many areas, the authorities encouraged freedom of artistic expression within movie and cultural event posters. The implementation of a government supported film distribution system in 1947, controlled by Film Polski and later Centrala Wynajmu Filmnow CWF, nurtured an environment whereby local artists - members of the Artists Trade Union - agreed to accept commissions on the understanding that there would be no censorship of their work. [3] As a result they operated independent of, and alongside, the more strictly controlled and conservative art of the state. The Socialist Realism style imposed by the Kremlin was typified by images of square-jawed and overall-clad workers stiffly espousing the virtues of the latest 5-year plan. Industrial, artificial, turgid and overtly political, Socialist Realism was largely rejected by the new generation of post-war Polish artists and went into swift decline following the death of Stalin in 1953. Under Communism, billboards were outlawed, neon scarce, and the urban landscape presented as colourless and drab. [4] The poster, whether for cultural events, film, concerts or of a political nature, stood out on the grey, rubble-strewn streets of the capital Warsaw and elsewhere, creating a constantly changing, street-based exhibition.

The state publishing house for the production, printing and distribution of film posters, Wydawnictwo Artystyczno-Graficzne WAG, was established in 1950 and played an important role in the evolving artistic and individualistic Polish poster tradition. Up to 600 movie posters were commissioned annually, with print runs of anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 each. For each successful poster design, artists were paid a sum said to be almost equivalent to a monthly average wage. This work kept a core group of artists, designers and printers in employment during the immediate post war period. Polish poster art became a national industry and the art community outside of Poland soon began to take notice. Exhibitions were held from the late forties, culminating in the First International Poster Biennale at Warsaw in 1966. Two years later the world's first national poster museum opened there, in the castle of Wilanow. Public and private collections proliferated inside and outside the country, and the Poles took pride in the work of their artists, even though it was often unconventional and at times confronting. The reputation of individual exponents spread quickly throughout Europe and beyond.

Though people speak of a School of Polish poster art, there is no single style as such. Clearly distinguished by its artistry and individualism, the poster imagery ranges across art movements from Cubism, Constructivism, Surrealism and Pop Art through to Expressionism and Futurism. Being so overtly artistic, examples were often highly prized and collected off the streets as they appeared, thus ensuring the survival of what is essentially an ephemeral art. Following the war, a market developed for the Polish poster, whether it be film related or for cultural or political events. Dedicated monographs, exhibition catalogues and collecting institutions listed, described, discussed and analysed relevant examples, whilst retail outlets and, in recent years, web sites offered the posters for sale to the world. The tradition continued, albeit in a limited fashion following the political upheavels of the eighties. The success of the Solidarity movement and Poland's subsequent democratisation gave rise to the scaling back of state sponsorship, the removal of trade barriers and the introduction of capitalism. This brought changes such as the appearance of billboards across the country and the increasing utilisation of the 'quick and dirty' Hollywood poster style.

In revealing the variety of the Polish movie poster genre, a survey of Australian examples is useful, for amongst the foreign films released by Film Polski and CWF after the war were a number of iconic local features. The Overlanders 1947, Eureka Stockade 1949, Ned Kelly 1969, Wake in Fright 1971, Picnic at Hanging Rock 1974 and Crocodile Dundee 1986 all secured a Polish release and featured in posters by some of its most famous artists.

Henryk Tomashewski: The Overlanders, 1948.

The earliest known example is Chip Rafferty's The Overlanders / Zwyciezcy Stepow 1948. The poster was designed by Henryk Tomaszewski, often called the father of the modern Polish poster school. [5] Radical for the time, it featured a simple drawing of horse and rider, with large sweeps of bright green and blue paint in the background representing earth and sky, and strongly curved black and red lettering. The poster did not include a recognizable portrait of Rafferty, nor a photographic still of the Australian outback, as convention dictated. It was to all intents and purposes a coloured drawing, representative of a Hollywood western, though 'Z Prerii Australijskich' did feature in bright red lettering, highlighting the film's Australian location. Tomaszewski's posters stunned the public at the time, with their bold colours and shapes, the intimate integration of lettering into the design, and the suggestion of the mood and theme of the film. This was no accident. The artist and his colleagues meaningfully set out to change the fundamental nature of the poster. In 1974 Tomaszewski emphasised the point when he stated, "We simply altered the picture from one to be looked at to one to be read." [6]

Eryk Lipinski: Bush Christmas, 1948.

Eryk Lipinski's poster for Bush Christmas / Mali Detektywi 1948 also featured a horse and rider, though the style was naive and typical of a children's book illustration of the time, with elements of the strong Polish folk art tradition. Once again it was a painterly, artistic approach, and totally appropriate for the young audience the movie was aimed at.

Witold Chmielewski: Fort Eureka, 1954.

Another Chips Rafferty vehicle, Eureka Stockade 1949, featured in a poster by Witold Chmielewski prepared for the 1954 Polish release. Rafferty's distinctive facial features were clearly identifiable in a poster which expressed the necessary detail through simple outline and areas of flat, vibrant colour. Perhaps the most conservative of the Polish posters of Australian film, Fort Eureka 1954 is similar in style to the lithographic posters then coming out of France. Chmielewski was also a participent in the creation of Socialist Realist art for the state.

Wiktor Gorka: The Shiralee, 1957.

Wiktor Gorker's poster for The Shiralee 1957, starring Peter Finch, is traditional, stark and the most Hollywood of the Australian Polish posters. Featuring a black and white photograph of just Finch and a young girl - the Shiralee - on a flat blue-grey background overlain by a bold title in white lettering, it encapsulates the core elements of this Australian movie which was released widely throughout eastern Europe and Russia. The Shiralee is the simple story of a wayward father suffering the after effects of war and trying to be with his daughter. Such family dislocation struck a cord with those in Europe who had seen so many of their loved ones fall victim to guns, bombs, concentration camps, disease, starvation and neglect.

Krajewski Andrzej: On the Beach, 1967.

From the late forties through to the sixties the Polish poster flourished. Artists experimented with, and reacted to, new influences and emerging art trends. Krajewski Andrzej's 1967 poster for the 1959 Melbourne-based post-apocalyptic Hollywood feature On the Beach / Ostatni Brzeg shows the influence of Pop Art and the psychedelic movement. The simple design of the A-bomb mushroom cloud, containing tightly packed curved lettering, is similar to the many American and British concert posters of the time for performers such as Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Janis Joplin. Whilst Andrzej's poster is not as psychedelic as Australian artist Martin Sharp's Bob Dylan Blowing in the Head 1967, it nonetheless reveals that the political isolation of Communist Poland, hidden behind a so-called 'iron curtain', was not also a cultural and artistic one.

Maria Mucha Ihnatowicz: Ned Kelly, 1973.

The social, political and sexual revolution of the sixties was at its most extreme outside the Soviet Bloc, but Poland was not unaffected. Psychedelic and Pop Art influences carry through to the 1973 poster by Maria Mucha Ihnatowicz for Rolling Stone Mick Jagger's Ned Kelly 1969. The top three-quarters of the sheet is all modern and Pop Art, featuring an incongruous pink-faced Golum-like Ned, beneath a red Mick Jagger semi-circular headline banner. The bottom quarter harks back to the Australian colonial-period wanted man poster, with the words Ned Kelly in large, flat, dark green and blue lettering running along the base.

The societal upheavals of the sixties influenced and further liberated the artists of the Polish poster school. From the early seventies a wider variety of forms and design elements were utilised. The posters became more surrealistic and painterly. They evidenced greater use of the airbrush for fine detail, and included often macabre and sexual elements for the first time. This is in a predominantly Catholic country which had been subject to decades of strict media and film censorship under Communist rule. [7] The people of Poland were subject to horrific atrocities and extreme abuse of their human rights during the war years. This perhaps explains the proliferation of tormented images in posters after the 1960s. The distance of time allowed for a more open and free expression of reaction to those trauma.

Wiktor Gorka: Wake in Fright, 1972.

Wiktor Gorka's poster for Wake in Fright / Na Krancu Swiata 1972 is a portent of things to come. Featuring the large, dark brown skinned and distorted (smiling or leering?) faces of three Australian men (Aboriginal or European, or both?), drunk and threatening with gun and knife in hand, the poster portrays better than its Australian equivalent the menacing nature of the film. Once again starring Chips Rafferty, in his last major role, it reveals the dark underbelly of Australian outback society - a darkness which Gorka has captured in his poster design.

Danuta Baginska-Andrejew "Danka":
Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1978.
Wiktor Sadowski:
Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1992.

From menace to mystery; male brutality to female beauty. The two posters prepared for Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock / Piknik Pod Wiszaca Skala 1974 both emphasise female innocence. Danuta Baginska-Andrejew's 1978 poster features the ethereally beautiful head of a young woman, encased within a deep blue medusa-like cast and plinth. Her eyes are closed, as in a death mask. The beauty of the image reflects the film's visually hypnotic photography by cameraman Russell Boyd. Wiktor Sadowski's 1992 poster for the Polish re-release emphasises the same basic themes of beauty and mystery. The colour palate is yellow-brown, reflecting the sun-drenched Australian bush. The only element of menace is suggested by the typography along the left edge of the poster - sharp, ragged lettering, drawn as if with a knife. The observer sees a young girl, holding what looks like a translucent rock in front of her face. Is the rock there or not? Can she see through the rock? Can we see her behind the rock? Where is Miranda? This is a delicate, beautiful poster which encapsulates within a single image the complex themes and mystery of the film.

Jerzy Flisak:
Caddie, 1978.
Eryk Lipinski:
Storm Boy, 1978.

In surveying the representation of Australian films by Polish poster artists we encounter a richness and variety of styles typical of the genre. The stark surrealism of Jerzy Flisak's Caddie 1978 compares with the comic, juvenile folk-surrealism of Eryk Lipinski's Storm Boy / Chlopiec z burzy 1978. Caddie is sombre, stark, reflecting the drama of the film. Storm Boy is comic and colourful - the sweet tale of a wide-eyed boy and his pelican.

Danuta Baginska-Andrejew "Danka": Blue Fin, 1980.

The beauty of Danuta Baginska-Andrejew's Picnic at Hanging Rock 1978 contrasts with her finely detailed image of a spiked and decidedly menacing fish for Blue Fin / Blekitna Pletwa 1980. Both feature a distinct dark blue and pink palette, though beyond that the images are distinctly different in tone - one subtly sensuous, the other frigtheningly jarring.

Wieslaw Walkuski:
Man of Flowers, 1984.
Jerzy Flisak:
The Year of Living Dangerously, 1985.

A mixture of photo-realism and surrealism is seen in Wieslaw Walkuski's poster for Paul Cox's Man of Flowers / Kwiaty jego zycia 1984. What appears to be a voluptuous, classical Greek marble torso is lightly caressed by a hand of flesh and blood in this simple, yet erotic image. Jerzy Flizak's surrealist bent is further reflected in his poster for The Year of Living Dangerously / Rok Niebezpiecznego Zycia 1985. Therein two lobster claws rise up, intertwined, mirroring the sails of Sydney's famous Opera House, though the white tiles so distinctive of that structure are replaced here by an organic exoskeleton of brownish red colouring.

Andrzej Pagowski:
Crocodile Dundee, 1987.
Mieslaw Walkuski:
Crocodile Dundee II, 1989.

The two posters for Paul Hogan's Crocodile Dundee 1986 and Crocodile Dundee II 1988 reflect the distinctive styles of artists Andrzej Pagowski and Mieczyslaw Wasilewski. Pagowski, in his 1986 poster, goes for the cartoonish and multicoloured Pop Art form, whilst Wasilewski prefers a minimalist approach, utilising the silhouette. His black on white representation of a crocodile head, with jaws of the New York skyline and a profile of Crocodile Dundee on the right, is a style repeated in posters for movies such as Out of Africa 1986, The Untouchables 1987, and Big Trouble in Little China 1988. It is supremely simple, yet effective.

The Polish film poster evolved from a unique and eclectic mixture of local circumstance, government and industry support, and the skill and innovation of individual artists. The consistent high standard garnered international acclaim in the port-war period. Applied to both local productions and foreign releases, the Polish movie poster industry provided employment, experience and inspiration for three generations of local artists, prior to its decline in the 1990s. It is a model which Australia, and specifically the Australian Film Commission, could do well to consider. A Tracy Moffit or Mambo Australian movie poster, or series of posters - now there's a thought.


1 Danuta A Boczar, The Polish Poster, Art Journal, vol 44, no. 1, Spring 1984. Frank Fox, Combat on Paper: Polish Posters 1960-1990, KatonahMuseum of Art, Katonah, 1996. Vivien Raynor, Strange gusto is shown in Polish posters, New York Times, 9 June 1996

2 Gregory Edwards, The Book of the International Film Poster, Columbus Books, London, 1985. Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh, Film Posters of the 50s, Aurum Press, 2000

3 David Crowley, Henryk Tomaszewski: Affiches tekeningen, Journal of Design History, vol 4, no.4, 1991. Building the World Anew: Design in Stalinist and Post-Stalinist Poland, Journal of Design History, vol 7, no.3, 1994

4 Martin Krampen, On the semiotics of Polish posters, American Journal of Semiotics, vol 2, no. 4, 1984. Steven Rosen, Poster goes highbrow, Denver Post, 19 September 1993

5 James Victore, Poster Master - Henryk Tomaszewski, Print, vol 49, no. 5, September - October 1995. Stephen Hellery, Henryk Tomaszewski, leader of the Polish Poster School dies at 91, MoPo, www.filmfan.com, 14 September 2005

6 Henryk Tomaszewski, Talks with the editors, Projekt, 3/100, 1974, p 74

7 G. Jurek Polanski, American Films in Polish Posters, ArtScope.net, www.artscope.net, May 2002


I would like to thank Krzysztof Marcinkiewicz of Aristos Studio / Polish Posters Shop (polishposter.com), Wroclaw, Poland, for assistance in compiling this article. Copies of most of the posters referred to are available from this site.

Michael Organ is an archivist and historian employed at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He has curated retrospective historical survey exhibitions of the landscape art of the Illawarra region of New South Wales and Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Michael is currently working on a film poster exhibition with the Wollongong City Gallery.

3 November 2009

1 - Australian Listing 1906-1971 | 2 - Australian Printers & Dealers | 3 - Polish Posters of Australian Films
4 - Personal Collection - Polish Posters | 5 - Ned Kelly Polski | 6 - Personal Collection - Australian Posters
7 - Personal Collection - Film Posters | 8 - Zuzanna Lipinska Polish Posters