Waldemar Świerzy

Waldemar Świerzy – poster artist and graphic designer, book illustrator, professor of poster design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań and Warsaw. Born on 9 September 1931 in Katowice; died on 27 November 2013 in Warsaw.

He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow between 1947 and 1952 (Faculty of Graphic Arts in Katowice). Świerzy received numerous awards for his work. In 1959 he won the Grand Prix Toulouse-Lautrec at the 1st International Film Poster Exhibition in Versailles for his poster, Czerwona Oberża (Red Inn), and the 3rd-place prize at the same exhibition in 1962 for Dwa piętra szczęścia (Two Floors of Happiness). In 1970 he was awarded 1st prize at the 10th Biennale de São Paulo. In 1975 and 1985 his film posters for Ziemia Obiecana (The Promised Land) and Psy Wojny (The Dogs of War) won 1st prize at the “Hollywood Reporter” Film Poster Competition in Los Angeles. In 1971 he received the gold medal at the Polish Poster Biennale in Katowice. He was also awarded silver medals several times. In 1976 he won the gold medal at the International Poster Biennale in Warsaw and 1st prize at the Poster Biennale in Lahti in 1977. In 1997 Świerzy received an honorary doctorate from the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow. He was a member of the prestigious Aliance Graphique Internationale (AGI).

Waldemar Świerzy is one of the most prominent European poster artists; he was one of the founders of the Polish School of Poster Art in the 1960s and 1970s. He produced about 2,000 posters, thematically revolving mainly around culture (theatre, film, circus, music). In his work, however, he did not avoid social matters and sport. Świerzy was also the designer of the jackets for Contemporary World’s Prose, an excellent literature series published by the State Publishing Institute (in Polish: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy) He also designed record sleeves, calendars and post stamps.

In 1970, his circus poster with the red face of a clown in a blue bowler became a huge success. Human figures and portraits came to dominate his poster art from that moment on. Świerzy rose to international fame thanks to posters portraying musicians (the famous Great Jazzmen series). His Jimmy Hendrix poster was considered iconic by young people. Świerzy made portraits of more than 250 world figures. Portraiture came to be a source of unlimited opportunities for Świerzy. The artist does not focus on the psychological depth of his models; he brings to the fore only a few characteristic features and describes their profession and artistic work using a metaphor.

Producing the portraits of Polish rulers, he warned that they would not be idealised images like those in The Gallery of Polish Kings and Princes by Matejko; they would rather be psychological studies showing rulers as flesh-and-blood people, passionate and often also cruel. Matejko’s gallery has become so entrenched in our consciousness that we cannot even imagine another collection of portraits. But I decided to imagine one. I wanted to have portraits of real people – Świerzy said.