Soviet-era design is often associated with stark, hard angles, dull hues and a utilitarian clunkiness, but these stunning posters from post-war Poland show a very different story, and they're absolute classics of graphic design. Bold and colourful, the posters shine with vibrant personalities, and a duo of London-based dealers is now ensuring they get the credit they deserve.
From the 1950s right through to the 1980s, the Polish School of Posters blended painterly aesthetics with the direct, concise form of communication offered by the poster in a way that blurred the line between designer and artist. The influence of names like Ryszard Kiwerski and Maciej Hibner hasn't been as well recognised internationally as that of Western designers like Saul Bass, but judging by some of these posters, it should be (for more poster inspiration, see our selection of the best poster designs).
The legacy of the Polish School is now being resurrected in the UK by Projekt 26, London-based dealers Sylwia Newman and Harriet Williams, who specialise in the School's work and also run the vintage poster market Projekt MKT. They sourcing original posters from Poland as well as limited-edition reprints of classic designs, with authorisation from the original artists and their families.
They've sourced dozens of posters, from advertising pieces for both Russian and classic Westen movies (check our Godzilla and Rocky above), to posters for circuses, exhibitions and tourism adverts. Prices range from £100 to £1000 for extremely rare pieces, and the genre is proving a triumph.
As well as the use of striking colours from folk art, what makes the posters really stand out is the way they eschew conventional layout and hierarchy by merging type and graphics. They also employ clever metaphors and allusions using popular symbols and slogans (often hand-lettered).
Projekt 26 notes that poster design attracted outstanding artists in Poland since it was the one commercially viable form of art, but while the posters were made for advertising and were designed to attract attention, they include subversive wit and symbolism – always subtle enough to escape censorship. The results suggest a time of immense creative freedom – something that not be expected from post-war Poland. And the designs look just as striking today as they must have done in their day.
Project 26's next vintage poster market takes place at MKII in Clapton, London on 12-14 November. You can book tickets at eventbrite – just make sure you've got plenty of space on your walls for when you get home.
Inspired to unleash your own creativity. See our guide to the best online poster maker for tools to create your own poster designs, or see the best prices for Adobe's Creative Cloud below.