The average modern-day film poster, usually a garish montage of stars drowned in an excess of legally-required accreditation, is more closely associated with commercialism and mass reproduction than it is with any sense of artistic merit. This hasn’t, however, been true of Poland, whose rich poster tradition survived and perhaps even flourished during its communist period from the mid-1940s to the late 1980s. This was an era in which Polish “poster designers probably enjoyed more freedom of expression than their counterparts in the West” – or so we’re told in the introduction to Klimowski Poster Book, which features the bleak but beautiful posters of one such designer, Andrzej Klimowski.
Combining abstract screen prints, photomontage and his own drawings, Klimowski’s posters look more like snapshots of the Monty Python animations than anything you’d see adorning a cinema exterior, let alone the side of a bus. The book features works from the 1970s to the present, but it’s hard to date any of them – Klimowski’s posters are somewhat timeless, perhaps because they subtly blend art styles that predate his career.
In some cases, the process of commissioning posters for Western films being released in Poland was so bureaucratic that the designers might not have even been able to see the film in advance. As a result, Klimowski’s film posters often strive to capture the essence of the film in question rather than depict any features of the film itself. So we see the evocative posters for Chinatown (1974) feature a rose, a hundred-dollar bill, and a nude female torso – a recurring image also used in his poster for Scent of a Woman, which looks more like an arthouse horror flick than the Commedia all’italiana it is.
Elsewhere, it is harder to tell to what degree Klimowski’s abstractions were a necessity deriving from lack of publicity materials. It is a shame that the book limits its word count to an introduction comprising of largely biographical information. Some of the posters might have benefitted from a little context – a pair of striking anti-racism posters with the slogan “You have rights against racism: use them”, for example, cry out for a backstory.
The featured designs are predominantly film and theatre posters, though there’s also an assortment of welcome oddities, including an advert for BA honours in fine art at Oxford Brookes University and couple of advertisements for the 2013 World Chess Tournament. Ultimately, though, it is Klimowski’s cherished film posters that are most impressive. A recent minimalist reimagining of Andrei Rublev (1966) is arresting, and his design for Taxi Driver (1976) betters the iconic American original.
Klimowski Poster Book by Andrzej Klimowski.