Manuel Gasser on Polish posters

Poster for The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973) by Starowieyski

Manuel Gasser on poster artist Franciszek Starowieyski, from a 1971/72 issue of Graphis:

“Franciszek or Franek Starowieyski, born in 1930, belongs to the same generation of Polish designers and poster artists as Jan Lenica (born 1928), Roman Cieślewicz (1930), Waldemar Świerzy (1931) and Julian Pałka (1933). It is a generation which, although old enough to appreciate the facts of the war and occupation, only received their training in the subsequent years of reconstruction. The sombre experiences of their youth may help to explain the leaning to strange and gruesome themes that is apparent in their work. Partly this is also explained, however, by the fact that they are all more or less pledged to Surrealism, a movement that has a propensity for probing the dark and secret mazes of the human spirit.

And finally we should not forget that the film and the theatre are the almost exclusive field of activity of Starowieyski and his colleagues—a domain in which today there is little occasion for plain and honest laughter. These facts constitute a plausible apologia for the shock the observer may experience on his first acquaintance with Starowieyski’s posters and drawings—a shock which perhaps appears the more brutal when his work is contrasted with that of a Western artist of comparable age and talents, whose job will normally be to make consumer goods palatable to a pampered public.

Admittedly, this knowledge of the artist’s personal and aesthetic background and of the institutions that commission his work will not entirely satisfy every observer. There is another element involved: the fact that poster art in Poland has not very much to do with advertising in the Western sense. The artists who have brought it to its present florescence seem rather to use it as a medium of free and liberating expression, which enables them to speak their inward wishes and fears not merely in a whisper in the circle of their friends and acquaintances but boldly and loudly from the hoardings of the cities.

Regarded from this angle, the macabre component in Starowieyski’s posters and drawings, his flayed, tormented and eviscerated bodies, his recurrent visions of ruin, death and deliquescence, lose the odium of a mere mannerism and take on the significance of historical documents, of desperate signals which, like messages in bottles, are cast out on the waves of the poster craze that today laps upon even the world’s most distant shores.”

— (via)

Related: MoMA has images of a 1985 exhibition of his posters, along with a catalogue, currently online here.