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.”

He Jianping, curator of psD’s Tomaszewski exhibition, said both he and his designs were immensely impacted and influenced by the Polish Poster School during his study and work in Germany, and he believed that such exhibition with the visual language of universal aesthetic will result in echoes to the Chinese graphic design industry s. In the official exhibition catalogue, HE wrote: “Dying at the age of 91 in 2005, Henryk Tomaszewski concluded his life with a perfect curtain call. His departure, just like his 1967 theater poster of Historia, ended with a dance shoe that inspired recollections and imaginations, and sealed our memories.”

Tomaszewski taught in the class of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, 1980, Warsaw, Poland ©Jerzy Sabara

Exhibition Information
Henryk Tomaszewski
Curator:  He Jianping
Time:      Jul. 15 – Sept. 15, 2017
Venue:     psD, 1F, PSA
Add.:      200, Hua Yuan Gang Rd., Huangpu Dist., Shanghai, China
Admission:     Free
Organizer:      Power Station of Art
Co-Organizer  hesign International
About Designer

Henryk Tomaszewski was born in Warsaw on June 10, 1914, and died in Warsaw on September 11, 2005. He was the most important graphic designer, illustrator, stage artist and educator in modern Poland, and a figure central to the country’s post-war construction of national cultural image.

In 1929, Tomaszewski was admitted to Warsaw’s School of Graphic Design to study drawing and lithography. During 1934-1939, he studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. From 1936 to 1939, he drew illustrations and satirical drawings for the weekly satirical magazine Szpilki. In 1939, he won the first award for competition design for the Polish Pavilion in New York - World expo. In 1947, Tomaszewski designed posters for Film Polski (a Polish film company). In 1956, Tomaszewski, together with Jan Lenica and Julian Palka, become the first Polish members of Alliance Graphique International (AGI). And in 1975, he was given the title Honorary Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts in London. 

In 1952, Tomaszewski was appointed Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, heading its Poster Studio until 1985. His master classes gained a widely recognized reputation in the international field of graphic design, and educated dozens of Europe’s up-and-coming graphic and poster artists of considerable renown, including Pierre Bernard (France), Gerard Paris-Clavel(France), Michel Quarez(France),Mieczyslaw Wasilewski (Poland), Lech Majewski (Poland), Piotr Mlodozeniec (Poland) Radovan Jenko  (Slovakia), Karel Misek (Czech Republic), and Marjatta Itko-nen (Finland),etc..

About Curator
HE Jianping

HE Jianping is a graphic designer, professor, a publisher and a member of the AGI. He was born in China in 1973 and now lives in Berlin.

HE once taught at the University of the Arts, Berlin, and is now an adjunct professor and PhD tutor at the China Academy of Art. In 2002, he established in Berlin his own design studio and publishing house called hesign, with the other branch in Hangzhou existing since 2008. HE has received numerous international prizes for his works: Gold prize, Silver prize at International Poster Biennial in Warsaw (2012, 2001, 2010);Gold prize at the International poster Triennial in Toyama, Japan (2012);First Prize at the Lahti International Poster Biennial in Finland (2005);Silver (2008) and Bronze prize (2010, 2011) in ADC New York;Silver medal at the International Poster Biennial in Mexico (2010);Silver prize in International Poster Triennial Hong Kong (2004, 2010);Bronze medal of HKDA Hong Kong (2009); Silver medal at the 2nd Ningbo International Poster Biennial (2001); the Golden Bee 7 - Moscow International Biennial of Graphic Design (2006);Award for Typographic Excellence TDC New York in USA and TDC Tokyo in Japan (2007-2010).In 2006, he received the Poster Art Yard in Rüttenscheid prize in Essen, Germany. His solo exhibitions have taken place in Germany, Nanjing, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Malaysia, among other places.

Exhibition Works

Boule de suif Henryk Tomaszewski 1947 Film Poster, Copyright is owned by artist

Citizen Kane, Film Poster by Henryk Tomaszewski 1948, Copyright is owned by artist

Historia, Henryk Tomaszewski, 1983, Theater Poster, Copyright is owned by artist

EdwardⅡ, Henryk Tomaszewski, 1986, Theater Poster, Copyright is owned by artist

《爱 》

Moore, Henryk Tomaszewski, 1959, Exhibition Poster, Copyright is owned by artist

Drawings, Henryk Tomaszewski, Year Unknown

Drawings, Henryk Tomaszewski, Year Unknown

Installation Views