press release

Henryk Tomaszewski
Curator He Jianping
Organizer PSA

Henryk Tomaszewski
PSA to Hold First China Solo for Father of the Polish Poster School

From July 15 to September 15 this year, psD, the Power Station of Art’s design center, will present China’s first solo exhibition for Henryk Tomaszewski, the late Polish graphic artist. An internationally acclaimed graphic designer, illustrator, stage artist and educator, Henryk Tomaszewski is well known for his signature free-hand graphic expressions, and sarcasm between those concise strokes. His unique visual language not only helped to found the highly distinctive character of the Polish Poster School, but also exerted major influences on the modern graphic design field in France, Britain, and even the West as a whole.

The psD exhibition will put on display more than 200 of Tomaszewski’s original works, including over 40 of the designer’s handcrafted original screen printed posters, over 100 original prints of book designs, and over 120 illustration sketches made available to the global audience for the first time. In all, the three parts will offer a systematic review of how the Polish master designer’s unique creative style gradually came into being during his career spanning more than 60 years. The exhibition is curated by famous designer He Jianping, who himself authored the exhibition’s official poster; and the event will also accommodate a thematic seminar, as well as a psD workshop, Work without A Computer, the public recruitment of which is now underway.

Henryk Tomaszewski: A Silhouette of Poland’s Modern Poster History

Development of the Polish poster art was tightly associated with post-WWII revival and reconstruction of the country. Due to a strict censorship, the social environment at the time didn’t provide free soil for artists. Yet, posters became an important role as the medium of national cultural propaganda, thanks to its born properties such as favorable information dissemination, fitness for general public and outdoor viewing, as well as convenience to create and duplicate in an era of scarcity. State sponsorship was abundant at the time, to encourage and support designers and artists’ poster creations.

However, the socialist realist aesthetics advocated by the Polish government wasn’t favored by the artists, and they found an ideal outlet, a zone with fresh air within the squeeze of the propaganda machine ­- posters for theaters, cinemas, and exhibitions. Comparatively free of any heavy-handed ideological symbolism, posters often reflected the artistic value of Polish artists, thus growing to be an important playground for their professional yet precious practices.

Just as his famous saying “Politics is like the weather; you have to live with it”, Tomaszewski, together with other artists of his time that had a longing for freedom, found balance between government censorship and artistic freedom. Developing his own unique creative styles and making pioneering contributions, he, no wonder with his design career, can be regarded as a silhouette of Poland’s Modern Poster history.

Key Poster Works by Henryk Tomaszewski: Pioneer of the Polish Poster School

We created a new language. It consisted of rejecting narrative description for the sake of advanced conceptual shortcuts based on sequences of images- in other words, associations or metaphors. To put it simply, we replaced an image meant for reading.
Henryk Tomaszewski (1974)

As early as during his study at Poland’s Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Tomaszewski started to create illustrations and cartoons for the weekly satirical magazine Szpilki, setting a style for the distinctive graphical representations and incisive ironic attitudes in his post-war poster creations. After WWII, Tomaszewski moved from Warsaw to LÓdz, Poland’s interim yet cultural capital, and started to undertake commissions for movie posters. His early works such as Boule de suif (1947) and Citizen Kane (1948) all carried with them obvious influences by children’s drawings and primitive art. For the period, collage was Tomaszewski’s major creative technique, revealing photomontage-style and multi-perspective visual symbols.

Compared with movie posters, theater posters, mostly based on drama plots, was a crucial arena for the freer expression for Polish designers. For these creations, Tomaszewski took on an even more obvious minimalist touch, featuring distinctive features such as metaphor, correlation and humorous provocations. In a 1983 theater poster for the play Historia, Tomaszewski confronted political reality with his work, which was a rare case. He sketched the image of a foot apparently making the ‘V’ gesture with its toes, a symbol which Solidarity leaders had adopted during the heady days of its rise, but banned in all Soviet communist states. A simple replacement of fingers by toes, though seemingly naïve, was a complex show of defiance and irony. In another poster, Edward II (1986), a similar minimalist gesture design of monochrome led to a crudely-drawn hand, with index finger pointing up, near the center of a white poster. It was a gesture that England’s Edward II would often use when questioning his subordinates, and became Tomaszewski’s imagery tool as a metaphor of the king’s sophisticated attitudes towards desire, life and sex, leading to echoes among the viewers though with a great amount of emptiness around the hand.

Exhibition poster was the third category of commissions for Tomaszewski, among which, the creation of Moore (1959) was widely regarded as the peak of his career. To announce a 1959 show of Henry Moore's sculptures, he created a poster of letters collages based on the character of Moore’s sculpture: the second letter “O” serving as the base of the sculpture, supported by the white lines and the blue background, resembling the horizon and sky. And Love in 1991 was a poster Tomaszewski created for his graphic design solo at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and its bold strokes revealed quite an impressionistic style.

How Henryk Tomaszewski Has Affected the World’s Graphic Designs

Tomaszewski’s works, in particular his poster designs, not only helped define the distinctive styles for the post-war Polish Poster School, but also laid a solid foundation for the graphic design style that swept the world during the 1960s and 1970s.His Poster Studio during his teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsawbecame wordly renown and nurished dozens of European graphic designers. Because of his distinctive minimal touch and concise symbolic languages, Tomaszewski gained considerable popularity in Japan. Comparing Tomaszewski’s creative feat with oriental aesthetics and properties of Japan’s Shodo and Haiku, Shigeo Fukuda, also a highly-reputed graphic designer, described him as a Zen master: “Tomaszewski is a master of graphic design and will be well remembered. He has the magic power, injecting vibes of creation in to graphic design.”