Franciszek Starowieyski’s Film Posters

Barbican Mezzanine

7 - 12 April 2011
Mezzanine level


Franciszek Starowieyski

Franciszek Starowieyski (b. in Bratkówka 1930, d. in Warsaw 2009), called by closer associates and friends Franek, Franio etc., was undoubtedly one of the strongest personalities in Polish art of the post-war period.

Initially he studied painting at the Art Academy in Cracow (1949-52) and in Warsaw (1952-55) but his greatest successes were achieved in the field of poster design and drawing. As a poster artist he created over 300 titles devoted to film and theatre productions. As a drawer he organized and animated the vastly publicized, spectacular twenty two “sessions” of a “Theatre of Drawing”.

His posters are believed to be (especially outside of Poland) one of the greatest contributions and an emblem of the so called Polish School of Posters, although he personally claimed that he had nothing to do with it whatsoever. One may accept his point of view on one condition –that any attempt to classify things and phenomena in art is but pure game, masterminded by theoreticians and critics, who are not interested in the underlying uniqueness of art but rather monotonous and boring uniformity. Besides, it is easier to sell (especially abroad) ready “product” from the Polish School of Posters than endlessly prove the quality of thousands of works by Henryk Tomaszewski, Jan Młodożeniec, Jan Lenica, Roman Cieślewicz and so many others.

Perhaps Starowieyski was the greatest eccentric of them all. In many ways he had the best potential to become an international celebrity, as he was an extravert and the TV and film camera love d him. In a certain sense his artistic output was very well distributed and familiar among the audience. Yet, in a deeper sense, he is still unknown and undiscovered. Most Poles prefer to deal with his art somehow intuitively and emotionally (who knows, perhaps it is the only proper way to get close to Art – and surely, it matches better the spirit of Starowieyskis’s art).

Unfortunately it is only a half-truth. To begin with the evolution of style of this artist, we may trace his sources of inspiration and fascination with minute precision. Equally interesting and promising can be deciphering the convoluted meanings of his works. What one needs to do is to initiate serious research and study of the subject. But as I said, the present generation of Poles prefer the emotional approach towards the “master” and his work. His art still strongly divides people, making them enthusiastic supporters and equally determined opponents.

The best definition of the poster “ ŕ la Starowieyski” has been forged by the artist himself. He once stated that the most difficult task for the creator of a good poster is to find a reason for making it at all, as it is the only way of extracting something personal from the theme. According to him the act of illustrating somebody else’s thoughts and ideas is not good enough in the case of poster as it doesn’t produce creative tension (necessary for a future “masterpiece”).

Evidently, Starowieyski succeeded in finding necessary “reasons” and creating “tensions”, as he left a vast gallery of breathtaking images-posters – both for the film industry and theatre productions. The most fruitful years in this aspect seem, from our perspective, 1960s and 1970s.

Jacek Szelegejd


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