Does modern-day poster art shout blandness at you? Plymouth artist Steve Clement-Large had a refreshing experience the (Re)sounding signs: Polish Chopin Posters 1955-200 exhibition at Peninsula Arts Gallery. Take it away Steve…
Walk in through the entrance to this exhibition and you are struck by big, bold, uncluttered imagery and artwork.
This look back at half a century of Polish poster art is not laid out in a time-line, but in themes that have been repeated through the years, as Poles celebrate their adored composer. There are autumn landscapes, pianos, keyboards, trees, and of course Chopin himself.
The motifs may repeat, but are continually reinvented by the artists – almost like they are talking to each other: “Call that a keyboard? – I’ll show you a keyboard”
I begin with the poster that Peninsula Arts have used as its brochure image, by Roman Cieslewicz (1959). The reproduction does not do the image justice. Up close bold swirls of paint suggest autumn foliage with Chopin’s signature in black, acting as trunks and branches.
A few feet away Waldemar Swierzy (1996) has rendered a tree formed by exploding overlaid abstract stripes of black, blues and orange. Close by, a homage to Magritte by Rafal Olbinski (1998). An empty chair sits in an empty landscape in front of a window, opening onto the same landscape, plunged into night – a piano parked on the lawn – curtains blowing wistfully in an evening breeze.
Now to Chopin himself, who is represented in numerous ways. Mieczyslaw Wasilewski (2005) has done the most simple and bold line-drawing of Chopin’s face, while Jerzy Sacka (1972) has Chopin a la Hendrix in what is possibly watercolour and wax crayon.
In the adjacent keyboard themed section some work veers closely toward commercial graphic design.
There are exceptions – Jacik Cwizkla (1988) has superimposed a leaf on a keyboard melting into gorgeous autumn colours with big vivacious brushstrokes. There is also a clever collage based variation on the piano, by Stasys Eidrigevicius. In this a cloaked figure, whose face is an open grand piano, has round eyes peering out of the gloom under the lid.
Stefan Malecki (1968) has produced a cleverly executed painting (very much of its time) of black dots on white suggesting the curve of a concert grand.
In the corner there is an anachronism by Jerzy Krusewski (1954) a painting of the Stalinist era Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. It is sombre and cheerless, but a reminder that the more vibrant Polish poster art emerged during the easing of cultural clampdown, after Stalin died.
The posters here represent a small part of the experimentation with forms and styles practiced by the Polish poster school as a whole.
Next to the gloomy edifice is one of several posters by my personal favourite represented here – Jan Sawka. It’s Chopin as the statue of Liberty (2001).
Two more of Sawka’s works are in the portrait section – Chopin as a Sgt Pepper / Yellow Submarine psychedelic pop-art dude (2000), and doubled up as two NYPD cops (1999).
Reflecting on the exhibition frst impressions were correct – big, bold and uncluttered artwork, which is not afraid of being undeniably paintings or prints rendered by human hand and eye.
The images are central to these posters and the written information is minimal just covering festival, town, and date (often tucked away and handwritten in some cases).This sort of poster art is the best kind. The message is simple: “You know what the event is, be there or be square. You’ll find it if you want – just look at our celebration and pride”
Wandering around Plymouth immediately after, I started looking afresh at some current posters for events around the city – professionally graphically designed and digitally airbrushed to the point of blandness and corporate conformity – littered with sponsors’ names, logos, booking details, phone numbers, website details… information and visual overload.
Less is more.
by Steve Clement-Large
(Re)sounding signs: Polish Chopin Posters 1955-2006, Peninsula Arts Gallery, Roland Levinsky Building, Plymouth. It runs to Saturday, April 24, Monday-Friday (10am-5pm), Saturday (11am-4pm)/