Contemporary Polish Poster in Context: Jakub Stepien aka HAKOBO and Bogna Otto-Wegrzyn
Jack Olson Gallery, October 7-22, 2010
Guest Curated by Aleksandra Giza
Poster art in Poland has chronicled more than a century of social, political and cultural life. There are
recognizable stages directly influenced by the two world wars, communism, and the post war, post communism period. What is clear in Polish Poster design, aside from the images which may seem simple, vivid, minimal, albeit rife with hidden messages, is that the posters of any given period were directly influenced by the cultural
and political landscape of that time.
Exhausted by the Second World War and ruled by communist regime, for many years Poland was deprived from beauty. There were years of overpowering grayness where any manifestation of art and color was a luxury. The time that became known as the “Polish School of Poster” is the work done during the 50’s and 60’s when color began to again dot the streetscape but with a new type of artistic poster. Instead of political posters, which had to be nationalistic in form and socialist in content as prescribed to inspire the public, these posters were created for cultural events, concerts, films, opera, and even the circus. Artists insisted that the work be based on their own artistic terms and not the advertising of the past. Realism, political propaganda and symbolism that had arisen out of the war no longer seemed relevant. The artists who make up the Polish Poster School shared an emotional engagement in the development of poster design instead of a specific
Each poster from that time is a genuine expression of the artist's interpretation of the subject. Their work varied in style from expressionistic to subtle. A painterly background, hand written text, and an acute visual metaphor, often witty or even derisive, were the elements of artistic posters of this period. The limited access to technology determined the look of almost all these posters. Most of them were silkscreen printed on cheap paper with hand drawn illustrations.
Today, like a few decades ago, many new poster masterpieces are still made in Poland with brushes, pastels, and paints. At the same time, a great number of young artists decided to seek the new adventure of the computerized world and succumbed to a world that once was forbidden fruit for all those from the Eastern Block.
The works of both artists presented here indisputably follow in the tradition of the School of Polish Posters and share the same principles and values as the artists who worked behind the Iron Curtain in Poland during the 1960’s. Bogna Otto-Wegrzyn and Jakub Stepien (Hakobo) have similar ideological desires to express the complications and temptations of our world through their own visual language. The difference, however, is that the radical changes that happened in Poland within last 3 decades forced artists to make a clear statement about their involvement in the new reality. The artistic personalities of both artists/designers clearly fall into the
canon of Polish poster design because they have been exposed to and saturated with Polish history, culture and aesthetic. While the principles of creating a message remain constant, they both create completely new visual values, very different from those seen on posters from the communist era.
Jakub Stepien’s design work is meant for and fits into poster’s original environment – streets of a city and is still visible there despite the overwhelming presence of commercial billboards. He focuses on communicating a clear message using an appropriately intriguing, very contemporary form. Unlike Hakobo’s posters, Bogna Otto-Wegrzyn’s works make their way to displays in art galleries rather than in the streets. She consciously denies commercialization, which has pushed her artistic posters from the streets to galleries and museums, and thereby “forsakes” the original mercantile function of the medium. Her thinking process, unusual sense of humor, use of mockery/taunt/sneer, and, finally, retro/vintage-like graphic form that she uses to draw viewer attention to these unusual pieces.
While providing a commentary on contemporary society, she resents working for commercial clients and chooses to stay away from the open market atmosphere. As successors of the Polish Poster School and strong proponents of the credo, Creation of a poster is magic, both Bogna Otto-Wegrzyn and Jakub Stepien comment on everyday life, reflecting strong personal believes
through their personalized formal visual language.
by Aleksandra Giza