Andrzej Pągowski in 1988

Another interview with designer Andrzej Pągowski, this time from 1988, on film posters in Poland:

Mariusz Miodek: In Poland there is no separate profession of ‘designer of film posters’. There is no need to make such a definition?

Andrzej Pągowski: There are too few of us. Around thirty graphic designers are engaged professionally in the work of designing social, political, theatre and film posters. A dozen or so had specialized in film posters, but that was because they were following their own interests. In the West the poster is strictly linked with the sphere of advertising. Teams of graphic designers work in studios, advertising agencies or publishing houses. The team is made up of people specializing in a given field, such as people skilled in sketching with a pencil, photography or industrial design. But then there is no profession of a ‘poster designer’. One or two people work on the idea for the poster and the whole team provide the rest. In our case right from the acceptance of the order until the moment the printing begins – the poster is made by one person. That is the specific character of our work.

There are a few graphic artists in Poland, but among them one can differentiate certain generations – generation groups.

Pągowski: That is true. The group that created the ‘Polish school of film posters’ in the fifties are now in their senior years. Then there was a break and there appeared those who now constitute the most numerous middle generation. They were joined by the generation of  Jerzy Czerniawski, Jan Sawka and Jan Aleksiun. Then again there was a long break. And finally the youngest group –  Wiktor Sadowski, Witold Dybowski, Wiesław Wałkuski, who only quite lately made their name as designers of film posters (…)

Generation – that often means the students of one professor. You were a student of Waldemar Świerzy…

Pągowski: There are many graphic artists who studied with excellent professors. That, of course, always helps, but in certain situations can be quite dangerous. I had a similar temperament and similar aesthetic fascinations to my professor, so in a conscious or subconscious way, I made use of his experience. Now after many years I have my own approach to work, but even that I try to change as well. It is worse if the student happens to be with a professor of a totally different temperament.

Is there such a thing as a separate language of the film poster?

Pągowski: There is always the language of the poster in general, but in the case of the film poster it is much richer, more ‘eloquent’ in a positive sense of the word, than, for example, a theatre poster. The medium itself, which is the film, has a strong influence on the viewer and the author of the poster, so it is more difficult to grasp the character of the film in one simple sign.

Now when conditions are deteriorating in the world of cinema and elsewhere, I believe that the poster will take on a more utilitarian character.

Let us now move on to how the posters are made. From whom does the graphic artist receive commissions?

Pągowski: If it is a poster for a foreign film, then the order comes from the advertising editorial office of ‘Polfilm.’ That is where decisions are made as to who is to be given the order. ‘Film Polski’ can also commission a poster. For Polish films, in most cases, it is the film director himself or the film production group who choose the author. They are acquainted with the work of graphic artists and they know who can make the best poster for their film. I cooperate, for example, with Janusz Majewski, Piotr Szulkin and have also made posters for Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieślowski and Tomasz Zygadło.

It sometimes happens that the film director attempts to influence the artist and to suggest to him specific solutions. Bit even more often it happens that I respond to the film in a completely different way to the expectations of the film director. Then one simply has to communicate because, after all, the poster must reflect certain thoughts present in the film.

Do you receive orders from people abroad or from private individuals in Poland?

Pągowski: Anyone can order a poster from me, even you, on the condition that you possess a permit from the censor for printing and distribution. I have made posters to order for many foreign films, also foreign theatre productions.

What happens when you receive a commission?

Pągowski: The graphic artist watches the film several weeks before the premiere and then starts working on the project. In the West, due to team work, the project is completed in two or three days but here it lasts several weeks: sometimes that is too little time!

How does it work in your case? Where do you begin?

Pągowski: First of all I try – during the screening and after – to submerge myself in the mood of the film and try to absorb it. The idea sometimes comes to me after two seconds and sometimes after two weeks. I cannot allow my imagination to wander off too far from what I have seen on the screen because then I search for too simple and universal symbols, as if from beyond the film. And I draw the final version of the design in one night – or in one week.

For me the most important thing is that my idea is included in the poster and this is how it differs from others.

How do you equip yourself with materials needed for your work?

Pągowski: The typical way is to bring paints, pencils, etc. from abroad. The biggest problem, of course, is the paper needed for the project. The ready-made design is assessed by a commission compromised of graphic artists who establish the price and send it for production. In the past posters were photographed and printed from diapositives, which completely changed the colors. Today the format of the designs is small – nineteen by twenty something centimeters. This has eliminated the stage of diapositives and the effect is a bit better.

What techniques are applied to Polish poster? Is the computer technology that you have lately been working with the future of graphic art?

Pągowski: Polish posters are mostly made with the use of traditional techniques – paints, pencils. And hopefully this is going to last as long as possible for these are the most beautiful posters. Of course, one has to experiment – every few posters or so I myself have to learn everything as if from scratch, but that is a result of my temperament. I get bored very quickly. I experiment because otherwise I will start repeating myself – after all, during the last ten years I have realized (together with book covers and brochures) several thousand ideas!

Here I must digress – in other countries people are paid for the idea and not for the completion of the poster project. That is something ever graphic designer knows how to do. Here we are paid only for the ready product, no matter whether the idea has been successful or not.

The computer technology that I have lately started dealing with is still a thing of the far future. One cannot achieve everything with the help of a computer, but in one area it is irreplaceable – it allows for faster design work and the matching up and adjusting of all the elements at the initial stage of the project, without having to use up materials.

What happens with the ready poster? You can see them on the streets, sometimes at festivals. It is more difficult to buy them.

Pągowski: The model poster goes to the author. The rest, and the edition usually amounts to from 2 to 9 thousand copies, is distributed in Poland. There is no poster market in Poland – one does not buy them like paintings, elegantly framed, and the designs are not sold. Apart from catalogues and three outdated books there are no publications concerning the artistic output of graphic artists. It is my dream to see a lexicon of Polish film graphic artists.

But the poster is missing from the place where it should be visible most – in the cinema! I myself saw my poster in a presentable cinema in Poznań broken into four so that one could only see the opening credits of the film.

Till not long ago, poster artists did not create horizontal posters because there were no appropriate display cabinets of that size! Perhaps, instead of reducing the size of the posters, we should simply enlarge the cabinets?

There are a few poster reviews and competitions for the best film poster.

Pągowski: That is true. There is a survey organized in Warsaw for the ‘Best film poster of the month’. I owe quite a lot to this survey – here is where I received my first distinctions. And today it also motivates young artists. The only form of competition is an annual competition for the best poster for a Soviet film. We have the Poster Biennale – an international one in Warsaw and a national one in Katowice – but the film posters are not much valued by critics and hardly ever gain awards at these events.

Polish posters have been receiving numerous prizes in two foreign competitions: that organized by the journal ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ and that taking place during the film festival in Chicago. Among European posters they have definitely moved to the top rank.

How will the situation change for the authors of film posters when the film industry will be self-financed?

Pągowski: It is too early to talk about that. It is very difficult to calculate what financial gains the power brings. It is the general opinion today that investments in posters do not make profits. But the myth about the self-financing of the film industry has long been exploded.

I am aware of an enormous threat: The theatre poster has already gone into decline, in fact it is already dead and only the richest theaters can afford posters and not for all performances. The same may happen with the film poster. If money is not found, the film poster will die.

— (via Film #16 (1988) / Pągowski: Illustrating Films)