Swierzy, Waldemar



Co-founder of the Polish School of Posters, poster designer, graphic artist and book illustrator Waldemar Swirly was born in Katowice, PL in 1931. After studying at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts from 1947-52 his choice of his profession was most influenced by his mentor and teacher, graphic artist Jozef Mroszczak. It was him who talked Świerzy, then freshly graduated, into moving to Warsaw to take a job at the graphic section of Wydawnictwo Artystyczno-Graficzne, a state-owned art publishing house, where he remained for many years. 

His early works put a premium on graphics rather than painting, with the human figure serving as a starting point to build the design. Simple in form and modern in typography, some of his 1950's film posters are now considered world classics, notably Czerwona Oberża / The Red Inn (1955), Bulwar Zachodzącego Słońca / Sunset Boulevard (1957) and Ulica Hańby / Street of Shame (1959).

In the mid-1950s his technique visibly changed to become more painting-like. The composition of his posters acquired a new dynamics - as if their form was exploding from the inside. This change was influenced by the new trends in painting, especially in the branch of abstract painting which supported spontaneous expression. Świerzy was the first to introduce elements of painting to poster art - and has remained forever faithful to them. This may explain why his posters are invariably easy to recognize despite their stylistic diversity. He has an extraordinary ability to combine unrestricted painting with a clarity of the graphic sign. Over time his posters start to echo the painting of gesture, lyrical abstraction, Art Nouveau and, more than anything, pop-art. They also betray inspiration drawn from areas as distant from applied graphic arts as folk art, naive paintings, amateur paintings and comic strips. A master of building an organic whole from what seems like clashing elements, Świerzy has used these inspirations to develop a distinct, original style. A case in point is his poster to Hej kolęda deska (1968), a song by the group No To Co, in which he applied pop-art to a folk theme. Świerzy applied a number of styles simultaneously, depending on the requirements of the subject-matter. His 1969 poster Auf Jagd nach Polen, intended to encourage foreign tourists to hunt in the forests of Poland, shows a beautiful stag standing between two birches against the backdrop of a kitsch, mushy sunset landscape. A variety of styles went hand in hand with a significant broadening of Świerzy's techniques, gouache now complemented by water colours, crayons, pencil. He would often use several techniques in a single project.

In 1970 a circus poster of his created a sensation. Viewers' attention was caught by the red face of a clown in a blue bowler hat; those in the know identified him as WAG's editor-in-chief Woydylla. From then on Świerzy's poster art was to be dominated by human figures and portraits, possibly due to the influence of hyperrealism and figuration, then the prevalent trends in art. Poster portraits of musicians (for instance the famous series Great Jazzmen, including Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong) brought Świerzy international fame, and his Jimmy Hendrix poster was a teenager cult object for years. 

Świerzy's "music" works also include record sleeve designs, mostly published in the United States, with music by Prokofiev, Liszt, Beethoven and other composers. All in all, he has portrayed over 250 people from the artistic world - painters, sculptors, composers, musicias, filmmakers. Some, like the images of Piotr Potworowski, Tadeusz Brzozowski and Stanisław Teisseyre, are truly unforgettable. Świerzy has found the portrait a genre of unlimited possibilities. Rather than focusing on the models' psychological depth, he concentrates on a few characteristics and uses metaphors to indicate the profession or the art.

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The 1980's saw him arrive at an expressionist painting poster style. Equalling the form of poster with the form of painting, this style has continued up to the present. What sets it apart - besides vivid colors - is a particular dynamics targeted at the hurried viewer whose perception of the street poster is likewise hurried. From close up these posters resemble a multi-colored mish-mash of abstract items such as pasta-like lines, splashes, smudges, spots, dots and streaks giving the impression of randomness. They become legible only when seen from a certain distance, the gay mish-mash then revealing a human face or figure, and the artist's intention becoming clear. Powerful color combinations, expressive color spots, sensuousness, vitality, dynamics and virtuosity of form are the hallmarks of Świerzy's style.

Świerzy produced over 1,500 posters over the course of career - an enormous volume by any measure. His works are in the collections of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Kunstbibliothek in Berlin, Ermitage in St Petersburg, Institute of Contemporary Art in London, National Museum in Poznan, Wilanow Poster Museum and in a number of other prestigious museums in Poland and abroad. A recipient of an honorary doctorate from the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts in 1997, he was also a member of the prestigious Aliance Graphique Internationale (AIG)


To view Waldemar Swierzy's works from the Jim Hughes Collection chick here