Andrzej Pągowski in 2009

An excerpt from a 2009 interview conducted by Dagmara Biernacka with Andrzej Pągowski on designing film posters in Poland:

Andrzej Pągowski: I would sit down to work in the evening and in the morning had a poster, a better one or worse, but it was there. Only sometimes it so happened that I would wake up in the morning, look at it and think, ‘Oh, God!’ and start all over again. In those days there were paints, cardboard, paper, or a piece of plank on which you painted and it had to be done in one go. I was never one of those graphic artists who fell in love with their own paintings. I was most interested in the idea and how it was to be realized. It was fascinating to try and invent the idea, whereas sitting down and realizing it was horribly boring. Today I have the computer, I make the design and the next day I return to it. I work on one thing for several days. Though on the other hand the computer is the tool of the devil, because every few minutes it shows me new things which it had kept hidden away, and by some pure chance something opens up and I like it. There are no rules when you create.

Could you make a living out of designing posters?

Pągowski: Certainly much better than today! Without problems one could earn enough to buy a car. Today there is no such possibility. It was a fantastic profession as far as the money went. I made over 80 posters a year. One poster amounted to one very decent salary. One was then paid for the work. You did not have to keep asking to be paid – there was a list of prices and no one discussed the amount. There was also an awareness that it was unique and that it was important.

There was also a different atmosphere in the social milieu.

Pągowski: First of all, people were friends with each other, they knew each other, they talked and met up. There is no such thing today. Today people sit in their own studios and pray for commissions.

Supposedly, not long ago, we were in second place after Switzerland in terms of poster design.

Pągowski: I suspect that is some kind of PR. For sure the Polish poster had great power in the sixties or seventies. Today the poster is in a niche. If in ’79 or ’80 you went out on the street and asked a passerby for the name of a poster designer, I think there would be people who could mention three or five names. If today you go out on the street and ask for names of graphic artists designing today…well, I would have a problem to name them, and what about the man in the street. When I was still in secondary school and lived in Mokotów where there was a poster pillar nearby, I would get up in the morning with prepared 5 zloties to catch the guy who pasted posters, and ask him for the new poster of Starowieyski. And where today would you encounter such situations? It was the cheapest form of quality graphic art. Now people prefer to go to Ikea and buy a picture with flowers.

What happened to the poster?

Pągowski: With the state sponsorship it was said that each film in Poland had to have two posters: one photographic poster and one graphic one. Additionally it was to have an announcement that it was to appear on the screen. Everyone adjusted to that, no matter whether it was necessary or not. The same poster setting was assigned to a Romanian film as to an immense hit such as ‘Hair’. There was no distinction whatsoever. Today the hit films have gigantic budgets and enormous poster campaigns, whereas a nice film lands somewhere with one poster or without. It used to be that each theatre would have the money for a poster, and each performed play had to have a poser. The same was true for cultural events, festivals, books, or records. Today the distributor does not ask anyone for an opinion, counts his money and says, ‘I have in my studio three boys and they will put together the photographs.’ The graphic poster died, the ambitious projects came to an end, and the photographs of actors sell the films. In the past the poster represented a certain symbolic abbreviation, where I as a graphic artist could introduce the viewer a bit to the atmosphere. Today we have four figures, two smiling faces like in the advertisement for Colgate, and the viewer knows only that they play in this perfomance of the play or this film, and nothing more. Not even the film direction has any influence, even if he is as big as Wajda or Zanussi, or even the producer. The distributor is a holy cow, who says, ‘This is what we must have’. Even if Andrzej Wajda has not got the last word, then that means that no one has it.

— (via Pągowski: Illustrating Films)

Andrzej Pągowski in 1996

From 1996, Andrzej Pągowski reflecting on his career and the life of the film poster in Poland:

“My adventure with the poster began right after I graduated from my studies. As part of the work distribution system which then functioned in Poland, I was introduced to two institutions which were dealing with film posters. These were ‘Polfilm’ and ‘Film Polski’ and within a month’s time from receiving my diploma I made my first poster for the film ‘ABBA’. The procedure was the following: the screening was attended by two graphic designers and if the assessing committee rejected one design, the other graphic artist would present his. But what was amusing about the situation was the fact that the committee solely assessed the visual aspect of the poster because apart from one representative of ‘Polfilm’ or ‘Film Polski’ no one had seen the film. That did make sense in any way because the committee was looking at the work with the point of view of a passerby from the street, who had not seen the film and the poster was to encourage him to do so. When I design a poster I always first watch the film, and if it is a Polish film I meet the film director. We talk and I often ask probing questions in an effort to find out what the direction wished to say to viewers. (…) I made posters for the leading Polish film directors and became friends with quite a few. And each of them had his own vision, or maybe, his own vision of the poster’s presence.

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s was a great blow to me. I made posters for all of his films and Krzysztof always said, ‘Andrzej, you’re the author of the poster, so do what you like’. That was the biggest challenge for I was aware that at all cost I had to retain the level of emotions present in his films. Although, on the other hand, it was easier to design posters for Kieślowski’s films. I would see one at a screening and leave with a ready idea. That was probably because the manner of narration and the problems addressed in the films spoke to me directly. The situation was different with Krzysztof Zanussi who introduced corrections to my posters. He would often point out one or two details that needed changing. And the procedure was quite similar with Wajda, although in the case of ‘Man of Iron’ he said, ‘This one and nothing else’. But in the case of the film ‘The Right with the Crowned Eagle’ he made suggestions right from the very start at the stage of initial designs. So I can say that the experience has been very varied, but there were never any dramatic splits, as that I would bring a poster and would be told, ‘No, that’s not it’. (…) I recall with pleasure my cooperation with Agnieszka Holland, for she always had a friendly approach. And so did Andrzej Barański. I also did not experience any problems when working with [Janusz] Kijowski and [Witold] Leszczyński. For the poster ‘Konopielka’ I received a few awards. Although I remember being a bit apprehensive when presenting the poster, for Leszczyński was a bit difficult in conversations, he accepted my design with no objections. It was a good thing that he gave me the freedom to do my own design, for in those times it was slightly controversial due to its erotic content, which the censors did not much approve of.

Things differed with Juliusz Machulski. His films are more commercial – and one would wish to comment on them with numerous graphic elements. (…) The posters which I made for him – ‘V.I.P.’ and ‘Déjà Vu’ – conflicted with the commercial approach and Julek brought photographs, made his own suggestions, and asked for the name not to be written in feather-brush letters so that everything would be very clear. In other words, those were the first moves towards the western poster – that which seals our streets so tightly today.

I think that the Poles were envious of the western film poster – they envied its nauseating qualities and lack of taste. The photo poster is dominant and is immediately swallowed up by the street, so that it is hardly visible, for it does not stand out in any way, but just melts into the sub-artistic magma of western posters. The deciding factors are finance and marketing, and the artist counts less and less. I myself, for example, have received all the prizes in Los Angeles for my poster to Kijowski’s film ‘State of Fear’ only because no one limited my ideas and I could create without taking into consideration non-artistic demands. The result was evocative and the poster was awarded many prizes, including ‘The Best of Show’. In the past, our posters stood out from amongst the western chaff and for this we were envied. Today, Polish cinema does not wish to have any of that. The viewer is treated almost like somebody stupid who has to have a large photograph of the star in front of his eyes and best if with a huge gun. The fact that our posters used to be collected, that they prided themselves in numerous literary metaphors and symbols which people were capable of ‘reading’ is of no significance to the distributors. Today’s winners are the uniform posters with photographs which disappear before they make it to the advertising columns. I am sorry to say this, but for me today, the film poster is dead and does not arouse any emotions.”

— (via Cinema #6 / Pągowski: Illustrating Films)

Andrzej Pągowski in 1993

Another excerpt from an interview with film poster designer Andrzej Pągowski, this time from 1993:

Andrzej Pągowski: If a graphic artist is not capable of adapting to the requirements of a film or theatre director or of an advertising campaign, then he will not be given the commission.

What does it mean to adapt to these requirements?

Pągowski: Today the client very often wants the poster to be based on a photograph and imposes printed letters, because they are said to be more legible. However, for years our graphic designers have been creating painterly posters, making use of handwritten lettering and they do not wish today to change that style. I myself have written texts with a feather, and now I must resign from this practice. I compromised for the sake of the client. I am in a comfortable situation that no one interferes with the illustrated part of the poster. My graphics can mirror what my soul tells me to do, but what does with it, the letters – must be as clear as possible.

A certain number of poster designers prefer to paint, but the clients wish to have photographs. This probably does not augur well for the future?

Pągowski: It is commonly assumed that a photograph is more visible and clear. That, of course, is not true. What is important in a poster are the emotions that it evokes and that one second for which it holds the attention of the viewer. I explain to all clients that one more photograph among the mass of photographs on other posters will not stand out, but just the reverse – will become swallowed up. Not long ago I was designing a poster for one of the western distributors for the film ‘Black Robe’. I painted it because I did not have a photograph which would reflect the mood and the idea which I had invented for the poster. Despite that, it fulfilled its role – it was visible on the street and people noticed it. Realizing that idea and at the same time, fulfilling the expectations of the client who wished to have a commercial poster was for me truly enjoyable.

What has changed apart from that?

Pągowski: All the deadlines have become shorter. In the past the process of making a poster took three months, today it is one week. The market has become very nervous and more difficult. Large foreign companies came to Poland and they do not wish to use Polish posters at all. The foreigners say, ‘Ok, this is a marvel. I will buy it gladly and hang it on my wall, but I will not put my money into it.’ They want the poster to be sunny and cheerful, and ours were sad, made for not very joyful Polish films, politicized theatre plays and solely tragic themes.

You said that the Polish poster loses out today against foreign competition? But up till now it has had the highest praise in the world.

Pągowski: Yes, but that was the artistic poster. It is still rated very highly and has outstanding authors. There is too much in us of old time ‘uhlan’ fantasy and that concerns the poster as well. But we will not give up so easily. We do not want to be reconciled with designs of Mickey Mouse and I believe we will never agree to that.

— (via Rzeczpospolita #106 (1993) / Pągowski: Illustrating Films)

Andrzej Pągowski in 1992

An interview from 1992 with Andrzej Pągowski on his work and the state of film posters in Poland:

Barbara Hollender: Almost every year you win the most prestigious competition for film posters organized in Los Angeles by ‘The Hollywood Reporter’. It is, of course, a great success, but at the same time in our country the poster is dying. What happened to the Polish school of poster – to the marvelous works of Starowieyski, Młodożeniec, Świerzy?

Andrzej Pągowski: Everything has fallen apart in the last three years. ‘Polfilm’ discontinued totally the production of posters. When the monopoly of state distribution came to an end, the printing of posters was taken over by individual private distributors. In an effort to save money, they do not commission work by Polish graphic designers. They rarely introduce Polish films to the screens and they begrudge money for their promotion, whereas for the foreign films they print mindlessly whatever posters come from the west.

Is this not the demand of foreign producers who wish to promote their films in all countries in a similar way?

Pągowski: There is always the possibility of adjusting the advertising materials to the needs of one’s own market. For example, the poster for ‘Dances with Wolves’ was different in different countries. In Poland, ‘Solopan’ commissioned a poster made from me. This was the first poster in a long time for a foreign film which was made by a Pole. Now such commissions are more frequent. I have the impression that the Polish film posters are slowly regaining their position.

You can’t see that on the streets.

Pągowski: Distributors are beginning to understand that the western poster is created in a convention that is tolerated by the western viewer. Here it does not fulfill its role – it perishes, unnoticed. The Poles are not ready to single out that kind of graphic design, because they do not know it. They see it as shoddy, ridiculous and commercial. For years we have become accustomed to intelligent associations and for searching in images for extra meaning.

And what about posters for Polish films in the situation when producers became impoverished, distributors are not particularly interested in the Polish film industry and the state has stopped subsidizing the promotion of art?

Pągowski: Well, it’s true that in the past it was common practice that once the film was in being, the poster was commissioned automatically. Today the situation differs completely. First the film must find money for advertising. Far less posters are being produced and the competition is fierce. The commissioning body has a lot to say about the general design of the poster.

Does that not limit the freedom of the artist?

Pągowski: Polish artists were brought up on a very exclusive school of graphic art which did not impose anything, accepted every creative idea and did not limit the artist in any way.

Due to that approach the great Polish poster was born.

Pągowski: Yes, that was no doubt great art. I would question, though, whether that approach adhered to the requirements of applied graphic art and to the requirements of the cinema, which is a convention.

You were also a student of that school and a pupil of Świerzy and other Polish masters of the poster – people who embodied their own individual style.

Pągowski: Yes, but I was always a rebellious pupil. I tried to combine art with a commercial approach. Perhaps that is why my work is often appraised less favorably by my colleagues, graphic artists who are irritated by the commercial aspect. And perhaps that is why today I have more work than those who have remained true to one style. I try to be flexible, I change conventions and adapt to the requirements of the material. That is probably what the client appreciates. But I see that something is beginning to happen. Most films are being made and there are more orders for posters. I myself am preparing five posters for Polish titles and my colleagues are also beginning to get work. And we are now all creating in a slightly different way.

And what turn of direction are the changes following? After all, we were very proud of the highly artistic posters which won competitions and which the world envied us.

Pągowski: One does not have to resign from artistic ambitions, but the compromises dictated by commercial requirements are essential. I, for example, have changed the lettering in my posters. No one can tell me now that I write illegible letters with a feather brush and no one can read that. Today a poster must be clearly readable, so I do my own letters only when the client agrees to my ‘illegible writing.’ In all remaining cases the studio takes care of that. When I come up with an idea for the poster I must take into account that it is not a museum painting and that written information will be included in my picture. More and more often, though, the client presents his specific requirements. When Krzysztof Zanussi was commissioning his poster for the film ‘The Silent Touch’ he said outright, ‘This is the title. It has to be that size. Max von Sydow stars in the film and his name is to be twice the size of the rest of the actors.’ That is already a western approach. Later, Zanussi also intervened in the graphic aspect of the poster as well. In a minimal way, but still.

Doesn’t art suffer because of that?

Pągowski: It does, but that is how it is going to be.

Doesn’t that sudden change to a different kind of thinking about poster art lead dangerously to heightened degrees of commercialization and to the loss of a Polish identity in poster art?

Pągowski: That is where the problem lies. It is vital that artists do not immediately adopt the non-artistic approach of the West and that they remember their painting roots and the concept of adding extra meaning, that something which was most beautiful in Polish posters. But I am convinced we are capable of creating a new school of commercial graphic art.

The poster (…) must convince somebody. When you design, do you think of people are are tired and whose glance must be held by your poster?

Pągowski: There was a time when there existed in Polish culture a specific game with censorship, and this produced a specific sense of solidarity between the viewer and the author and there was a sensitivity to the meaning of a symbol and to what could be inferred from in between the lines. Now that game does not exist. Nothing new appeared in its place because the new authorities ignore culture! So society became insensitive and conceited. Before when a passerby went past a difficult poster he would think of its meaning and would make an effort to understand it. Today he passes a verdict, ‘It’s hopeless. I, Kowalski, a Pole, know best what this poster should look like.’ That belief in one’s own ‘I’ is visible everywhere – among ministerial officials who decide in an arrogant way about issues which they are decidedly incompetent about and among common people who experienced a new sense of power but did not learn modesty.

But if you have such a vision of society then how can you design something which is in some way a conversation with people?

Pągowski: I try not to think of that every day because I would go crazy when sitting over my empty sheet of paper. But I am sorry sometimes that my fellow countrymen do not appreciate the art of their own country. What I most envy artists in the West is the fact that societies love their own culture. We have stopped being interested in anything that goes beyond the daily and most basic issues.

Why have the names which established the greatness of Polish poster art disappeared?

Pągowski: It is true that those who are the greatest find it difficult to adapt to the present requirements and to resign from creating in their pure style. Some of my colleagues also arrived at the conclusion that designing posters brings too most paints. Some began painting and others work in the West. I also design quite a lot for the West where our work is truly appreciated. I do not make a living out of designing posters and that is why I can create without the pressure that they must make a profit.

And what about the arrival of the young people in this profession?

Pągowski: At present that does not look well. The students of the Art Academy toady have a different view of life and art. Their first question is about money. They forget that at the beginning of this journey in the field of poster design it takes years to arrive at great abilities and at one’s own style. And that requires some sacrifice. Pure arrogance is not going to bring about the right effect. The situation with young people is the following: on one hand these are frustrated people who cannot withstand the pressure of events, on the other hand there are people of business whose ruthlessness I fear; sixteen-year-olds with a capital of billions who have their own hierarchy of values. But in the middle are all those who believe they will find their way. Those will be the future artists and future recipients of art.

There is still the issues of commissions. What obstructs their growth – other forms of advertising which have become lately so popular?

Pągowski: The first reason is lack of money. Because throughout the world television, radio and the press are the media giants, and yet the companies are prodded with funds to commission a poster. That is why these orders for posters, also for those films, are inseparably connected with the economy of the country, with the financial condition of companies and industries.

Could one be optimistic in this situation?

Pągowski: Of course. I am pleased about the revival of interest in film posters among my clients. I am also pleased about the competition. Because if someone is to function in the area of film poster design then he must be better than I am. But then I will have to fight as well. Perhaps in order to achieve success in advertising we have to give up our cheerless attitudes. 

So students should be obliged to take lessons in joyful optimism?

Pągowski: Something of that kind. My poster ‘The State of Fear’ accumulated all possible prizes because of its unspeakable gloom. Americans looked at all these colorful and amusing works but their own artists and suddenly they stood in front of something which hit them so hard. They gave me the prizes, but they would never have commissioned anything of that kind.

— (via Rzeczpospolita #209 (1992) / Pągowski: Illustrating Films)

Andrzej Pągowski in 1989

From 1989, an interview with Andrzej Pągowski on his film poster work:

Maria Rajczuk-Żukowska: In biographical notes about you, one can read, ‘Received a diploma in the poster studio of Waldemar Świerzy’. What was it that Świerzy passed on to you, if anything?

Andrzej Pągowski: Courage. It is very important that one is not afraid of work.

Is anybody trying to imitate your work at present?

Pągowski: Supposedly I am responsible for the disgusting lettering that has lately spread so profusely in Polish posters. It is true that I was one of the first to use it. I suspect that a large group of friends decided that if I was allowed to use it, then so could they! I am very worried about that – I was never very good with letters. Perhaps one day I will have someone cooperating with me who will do all the written content for me. In general, though, it is easier to copy one or other solutions from my posters than to imitate Pągowski as a whole. I change my approach to subjects too often to create my own ‘school’.

Original from beginning to end…

Pągowski: Don’t exaggerate! I believe that art is one great big melting pot from which we all draw. If at some point I need collage, pop-art, hyper-realistic or any other solutions, I will not ponder whether it is allowed. Some things have already been put to test and there is no time to begin from zero or force open doors that have already been opened – it’s a waste of time. In fact all of the art world behaves in that way.

And in general everything has already happened in art.

Pągowski: In some way, yes. If I were to define what distinguishes my works, I would say that I consistently apply the principle of tensions. Each of my compositions is a central composition, the main tension appears in the middle and the lettering is placed at the top. Yes, I do have some sort of my own pattern of standard of poster, but each time I apply it in a totally different way. For me the most important thing is the idea.

You are perhaps the artist with the greatest number of awards. What have you got out of that?

Pągowski: What have I got out of that? When a presenter on television announces that Pągowski has received an award in Hollywood, I write it down in my biography and reinforce my belief that what I do makes sense. But I do not work with the notion of competing in a race with others. If a film director asks me to design a poster for his film I do it. If, though, he supplies me with a topic and I know that there will be a competition – I resign.

The film poster was not your chosen artistic discipline from the outset of your work. Earlier you were involved in graphic design for journals and made designs for book covers.

Pągowski: I believe I belong to the world of advertising. It is the client who decides what I do and how I do it. I gave up a number of other smaller activities to focus mostly on the poster. That is what resulted in my name being associated in the film world with the poster. I receive the largest number of orders from filmmakers. And apart from that I truly enjoy cinema. I experience each film emotionally and intellectually. I am scared or moved, like every member of the audience, even if I watch the film just on my own at a special screening.

Have you ever made a poster for a film without watching it?

Pągowski: Only once.

How do you work?

Pągowski: Spontaneously.

What do you think about the advertising campaigns for Polish films?

Pągowski: They do not exist. We will soon rebel and stop making posters for Polish films, if they are going to pay us at the same rate as now (at present, the fee for a poster amounts to 150 thousand, whereas the costs of making the film are around 400 million). I believe that producers commencing the making of the film should have at the outset calculated the cost of advertising. Then the graphic artist would have the time to prepare the opening credits and design the poster, which should be made on the set of the film. I have managed to make that happen several times. When, for example, making Roman Załuski’s film ‘Oh Charles’ I came up with the idea of designing a photographic poster which included all of the film characters. That was a good poster. And it sold extremely well.

In the West the film posters most often include the heads of the actors?

Pągowski: It would be a mistake, if that happened here. We would throw overboard the whole artistic achievements of the Polish poster, together with its poetic dimension and literary associations. In my view the best solution would be the issue of two posters – one which would be ambitious in terms of graphic art, and the second – a poster for purely advertising purposes.

— (via Ekran #45 (1989) / Pągowski: Illustrating Films)

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)

Andrzej Pągowski in 1984

A short interview with designer Andrzej Pągowski from 1984 on film posters in Poland:

Mariusz Miodek: What are the principles of the annual competition organized by ‘The Hollywood Reporter’?

Andrzej Pągowski: The posters which are received by the organizers are divided into serval categories: European, American, Asian, film festival posters and typically commercial posters. In each of these categories there are three main prizes. The jury is numerous and comprises film critics, artists, directors of museums. In Poland two institutions – ‘Film Polski’ and ‘Polfilm’ jointly choose 10 posters, which then find their way to Hollywood.

Is it possible to categorize national schools of film posters?

Pągowski: The division into national schools belongs to history. It existed when information transfer was minimal. Artists with different ways of thinking who had created their own symbolism would close themselves off from the world in their own countries not being quite in touch with what was happening in the rest of the world. Together with the faster flow of informational there came new fashions, artistic inclinations and the disappearance of barriers. Today artistic work is highly individualized. Each artist is, of course, influenced by some artistic stimuli, and that is why some refer to classical paintings, others, for example, to computer graphics, but schools of posters can only be differentiated in reference to printing techniques. For example, the Japanese have created an individual style thanks to their print technology.

Is there a decided division into artistic and commercial posters?

Pągowski: We do not have any such thing as a commercial poster because in order to create such a poster you need greater resources such as people, stills, etc. When all this is missing what remains is the imagination of the artist and the images that it creates. 

Things are not the same in the West. A graphic designer is one of the members of a team preparing an advertising campaign for the film. The team is an institution providing a service and remains under the strong influence of the producer; in our country a graphic designer is above all an artist. 

And what does the situation look like in other socialist countries?

Pągowski: I am not sure how it happened but we are an exception – I am thinking of the large group of artists designing film posters in Poland. One should mention Hungary, though they do not create as many posters as we do. Although printing technology is at a higher level in Czechoslovakia and in DDR than here, one hears about them less.

And in Poland?

Pągowski: We are not well organized and the graphic designer often has too little time to work on a poster. Faulty printing reduces the quality of at least 80% of the posters. It stills happens that some posters are not printed in time, i.e. in time for a premiere. And unfortunately, we still do not have a place where we can exhibit the posters. The traditional round advertising pillar was put out of use, and has not been substituted by something equally good and well thought-out. There does not seem to have appeared any new group of prominent talented artists and the posters are still signed by names known for years. There now exist in Poland about 20 renowned creators of film posters. Yet the enthusiasm that existed several years ago has clearly waned. Perhaps due to the diminished effects of our work.

How would you define the film poster and its function?

Pągowski: A poster is the shortest review of a film. It should be an extension of the atmosphere of the film, should have a similar message and should expose its most irritating elements. A poster can make use of ugliness or beauty, but it must be noticed. If not, it dies.

— (via Film #4 (1984) / Pągowski: Illustrating Films)

Andrzej Pągowski on posters

“The Polish School of Posters doesn’t really exist anymore. It was during the sixties when the world started to realize that there are people who design posters in a different way. People who don’t just literally interpret what they see on the screen, but who express a personal, more poetic interpretation. These were arthouse interpretations made by painters, because back then most poster designers were also painters. Using their painting background to bypass the whole idea of an artistic procedure, they created symbolic paintings, which took the West by surprise, and led them to naming this style the Polish School of Poster.

Despite having studied under one of the most influential creators of the Polish School of Posters, Waldemar Świerzy, I don’t really feel [like] its continuator. This, because the Polish School of Posters glorified the individual artists style, so each unique style is very self-representative. My posters are more concerned with the subject that is being represented, than about being [my own].

When the critics talk about ‘the wayward child of Polish posters’, they mean I can’t be classified, that there is no Pagowski label and you never know what you will get. People who ask me to design posters for them usually say it is a risk because ‘I never know what you will bring me.’

There is no straightforward formula for designing a poster, not even an accomplished artist knows, by default, how to make a good poster. If they simply follow a routine they are not going to make a good poster, because then there is no energy, no dynamics, it is just ticking boxes. I try to veer away from what I know about making posters. I am to start from a blank slate every time to begin anew. I always work on the night before the deadline. I do this unconsciously, perhaps because I am afraid that I will complete the work and yet still have time to change it. In my case with my way of working, that could be very difficult. I would have a problem making decisions, and this way I know I have twenty four hours, so I just make myself sit down and do the work.

A poster is designed to hold the viewers attention on the event it advertises. When I try to communicate a film, I do everything in my power to make the viewer notice that poster on the street, even if only for a split second. That is what I find so hard to accept about photography-based posters, because if a whole street is plastered with them I think it all just blends into the background.

A great designer, Franciszek Starowieyski, had a really great formula for creating posters. He used to say, ‘If a viewer is walking down the street and sees a poster, he says ‘ah’ because he noticed it. Then he walks out of the cinema, sees the same poster, and says ‘a-ha’ because now he understands it.'”

— Andrzej Pągowski (via)