Polish Posters and the Krzysztof Dydo Collection

- Exhibit of Polish Posters collected by K. Dydo, Instytut Polski, Budapest, Hungary, Aug. 2011

Last winter I was introduced to Polish posters when I took a job at a poster restoration shop called Funnyface Productions, repairing torn paper and touching up color and paint on worn, used and loved collectable posters. Some of the posters struck a chord.  I really admired Polish circus or "Cyrk" posters. I instantly liked their strong, stylized and colorful graphic design.

Soon I was introduced to and became curious about Polish artists' take on cinema. These artists came up with some of the most imaginative, mysterious and artistic movie posters that I have ever seen.  In the U.S. almost all of the movie posters are based around movie stars or scenes from a movie. Polish artists rendered movie posters that were truly creative; an artist's visual inspiration of a film. Besides movie and circus posters I also got a small taste of music, propaganda and political posters. I was left wondering... "What is this all about?"

Skip ahead to Spring 2011... My dream to travel and learn in Poland and Hungary became real as I planned my experience for the summer. Many synchronistic events lined up before I boarded the airplane and once I arrived to my destinations.  

A story of sychronicity:
While in Krakow I wanted to connect with and learn more about Polish posters. On a walk after my art history class I came to a Polish Poster Gallery on ul. Stolarska which is owned and operated by Krzysztof Dydo and Ewa Pabis. It was closed but I made a mental note of it's location and planned to return when it was open and I had more time. I returned a number of days later and spent about 2 hours in the shop looking at the wealth of posters and poster related information there. I introduced myself to and talked with Mr. Dydo, who was friendly and very helpful. I looked at the catalogs and books he put before me as he told me a little bit about his life's work collecting Polish posters and exhibiting them around the world.

- image taken inside Galleria Plakatu, Krakow

How fortuitous is was for me to spend a little bit of one on one time with one of the leading collectors and promoters of this art form. Dydo's collection holds over 30,000 Polish posters, he's exhibited the posters all over Poland and Europe and also in Australia, Mexico, China, Iran, Canada and the USA.  As luck would have it, he shared with me that he currently had an exhibit up in Budapest and it was to still be there when I arrived in Hungary! When I shared with him how I especially like the Cyrk posters he said a man in NYC, a collector and dealer, was asking him to write a book about the Cyrk posters. Dydo shared that the Cyrk posters are not his favorite style poster so for now he is not interested in writing a book. I hope at some point he may change his mind as I'd like to learn more about these posters. It so happens that the man in NYC, asking him to write the book, is the same man we receive posters from in the restoration shop in Haydenville, MA! Small world...  I left the shop happy and full of information after the meaningful time I spent with Mr. Dydo. I bought a copy of one of his books, "The Polish Poster of the 21st Century"
 ...and he gave and sent me away with many leaflets, booklets and postcards relating to Polish posters and exhibitions. Unfortunately this beautiful book never made it to my house in the USA. The box that I shipped from Poland, containing many books, broke open somewhere, somehow, once it arrived to one of the USPS processing facilities. This was a big disappointment as I was hoping to spend more time with the book looking and learning. I wanted to share it with the people I work with at the restoration shop. Also, Dydo himself had signed it for me.

While in Budapest I went to the Polish poster exhibit on one of my last days in town. Here is the street and the location at the Instytut Polski...

Inside the exhibition room a large wall was hung almost floor to ceiling with Polish Posters. A feast for the eyes in their proximity and diversity.

I still have an awful lot to learn about Polish posters. I found a wonderful and informative article on line by Andrea Austoni called "The Legacy of Polish Poster Design". Austoni shares with us the history of the Polish poster from it's birth in the 1890's to how the posters exist nowadays. Most interesting to me is how the Polish poster is such an important contribution to the Polish national art form. Poland's history as a 'non-existent' country in the late 19th century, to it's sovereignty and independence between WWI and WWII, after WWII when Poland found itself under communist rule, and now to Poland's independence the poster often was expressive above and beyond it's role as an advertisement.

In the 1950's, although Poland was still under communist rule, in the creation of posters artists had the freedom to be most creatively expressive. Austoni says this,

"The fierce Stalinist rule had been lifted, once again leaving room for artistic expression. The classic works were created in the next ten years. Three important remarks must be made. First, at the time the poster was basically the only allowed form of individual artistic expression.
Second, the state wasn’t concerned much with how the posters looked. Third, the fact that the industry was state-controlled turned out to be a blessing in disguise: working outside the commercial constraints of a capitalist economy, the artists could fully express their potential. They had no other choice but to become professional poster designers and that’s why they devoted themselves so thoroughly to this art."

I believe that this is why we find so much passion, imaginativeness and expression in Polish posters. For awhile this form is where artists could most express themselves. An identity, a national identity, is infused within the images and graphics of the posters even when what is being promoted is a Fellini film or jazz music.

Please visit the links embedded in this blog entry if you'd like to learn more about Polish posters. There is a wealth of information out there. Austoni has a number of good links at the end of "The Legacy of Polish Poster Design".

(Images of posters taken at Funnyface Productions, Galleria Plakatu and Instytut Polski)